UPDATED 10/23/12 10 a.m.

Some of the most pressing issues facing the Leeward Coast and nearby communities making up Oahu’s first City Council district include the prospect of a new landfill in the area, rampant homelessness and unemployment. But they’re largely overshadowed by a sordid personality clash between the two candidates running to represent the district.

The race has pitted incumbent Tom Berg, a Tea Party supporter, against Republican state Rep. Kymberly Pine, who happens to be a former employer of Berg. Pine has represented Ewa Beach, Iroquois Point and Puuloa in the state House since 2004.

Their differences — mired by a broken alliance — have focused attention on their ever-growing dispute rather than the district itself, which includes Ewa, Kapolei, Nanakuli and Waianae.

“Instead of focusing on what they’re going to be doing for our community, there’s just a lot of muscling on both sides,” said labor leader Mel Kahele, who ran unsuccessfully for the seat in the Aug. 11 primary. “It’s politics at its worst.”

Berg and Pine’s rivalry is as complex as it is hostile. But it’s largely grounded in their disagreement over the island’s $5.26 billion Honolulu rail project.

Berg flat out opposes the plan, saying that it could take significant funding from basic services for his and other communities.

“All core functions of government will be sacrificed to feed rail,” he said. “Our quality of life will be severely impacted to feed rail.”

The majority of the nine-member city council, once its configuration is formalized with the Nov. 6 election, will likely support rail. That — in addition to what many describe as Berg’s fiery personality — has set him apart as the council’s anti-rail maverick. (Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi is the only other member to oppose the project.)

In fact, the rail is what compelled Berg to run for the seat in a special election in December 2010. The position was vacated by former Councilman Todd Apo, who left the council for a job at Disney’s Aulani Resort.

Berg has been vocal in his opposition to the rail, sometimes speaking out about the project in ways that critics found inappropriate. He’s had the police called on him in response to his outbursts more than once.

But concerns that his antagonism has impeded his ability to serve his community don’t seem to phase him.

“Truth has no fear,” he said. “Bring it on.”

For her part, Pine cites Berg’s attitude as a selling point of her own, saying it’s prevented him from being an effective lawmaker.

“Tom has been in the news more for his behavior than the positive improvements that he’s done,” she said. “It saddens me that he has made an enemy of every elected official on all the Leeward Coast. We need each other to succeed … It’s about being a fighter where people respect you. You don’t insult the people you need to help your community.”

The council, too, has been critical of Berg’s actions. Its members even passed a resolution in September that would allow the council to suspend without pay for as long as a month any council member who “engages in disorderly or contemptuous behavior.”

Berg, the only member to oppose the measure, called it the “Stop Berg from Exposing the Truth” resolution.

Most of that truth, according to Berg, revolves around the rail project — a “behemoth” he says is shrouded in lies perpetuated by the Legislature, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transit and others.

Pine, on the other hand, supports the rail. She cites the 2008 charter amendment that asked voters whether they approved of a steel-on-steel rail system.

“The people of the Leeward Coast voted for rail,” she said. “And I know, I’m a fiscal conservative, and I know budgets. They (community members) are my bosses they have charged me with finding a way to complete this project. This is what they want me to do.”

Leeward residents are arguably the biggest stakeholders in the 20-mile rail project, which would run from East Kapolei to Ala Moana shopping center.

Politics Get Personal

Berg and Pine’s rivalry, however, runs deeper than the rail.

Berg served as Pine’s legislative aide for nearly two years before assuming his spot on the City Council. In April he posted a YouTube clip that shows Pine endorsing him when he ran unsuccessfully as a Republican for Rida Cabanilla’s seat in the state House in 2010.

“It was Tom Berg that was fighting for you,” she said. “I’m so proud that he’s on my staff because he makes me look good.”

But things went awry somewhere along the way.

Some say their relationship soured when Berg decided to run for Apo’s vacant seat a month after losing to Cabanilla.

Berg said Pine had considered running for the seat long before he chose to do so.

“Kym Pine is on record wanting to be the councilwoman back in 2010,” he said. “Her deciding to run has nothing to do with me. It has nothing to do with how I vote, how my behavior is, what I have or haven’t done.”

But Pine said that she rooted for Berg when he ran.

“I truly hoped that he would get the job,” she said. “I just feel that he wasn’t ready and this is why so many bad things are happening. People don’t realize how stressful this job is. I hired him because I thought he has talent. I still believe he has talent. I see him as just as important as any other person in the community.”

She said that, though she had long wanted to run for the seat, she’s doing so now because her community needs her.

“The people of the Leeward Coast are losing patience with his inability to explain why he should be reelected,” she told Civil Beat. “He’s the only member of the council who had the police called on him. He needs to prove that he deserves to stay on the job. That’s the reason why I’m running.”

She added later: “I never set mediocrity for my community. They know I will fight for my community. I do it with the respect they admire.”

The ongoing wrangling has been further exacerbated by the inflammatory charges of Eric Ryan — a web designer who worked briefly on Pine’s campaign website and Berg’s former chief of staff.

Indeed, their resentment of the disgruntled former employee is something Berg and Pine have in common.

“It unites us in a very strange way,” said Pine.

To be sure, the only reason Berg and Pine are facing each other is because the city’s Reapportionment Commission drew the lines so that Pine would be in Berg’s — rather than Councilman Nestor Garcia’s — district.

Civil Beat last November reported that some believed the redistricting decision, which split Ewa in half, reflected political motives, including putting Berg in a weaker position to win re-election.

UPDATE: A previous version of this story described Ryan as Pine’s former campaign manager. He was not. Ryan helped Pine with her campaign website for a brief period of time.

Differences In Leadership Style

Berg has criticized Pine as ineffective, saying that she was trying to inflate her legislative track record when in fact she had never passed a bill she authored.

“In eight years, Kym Pine could not air condition Campbell High School, and that was her priority,” he said. “In eight years Pine has not had one bill of hers passed into law. In eight years Pine has left Ewa Beach behind. She takes credit for everyone else’s work.”

Berg says he’s more than just a one-issue candidate. Still, conversations with him inevitably return to rail or an attack on Pine.

Case in point, when asked about his district’s landfill troubles, he touted his record but quickly transitioned into a criticism of Pine’s alleged absence from discussions on the issue.

“Kym Pine has refused to attend every meeting on the landfill,” said Berg. “Pine was nowhere to be found.”

Pine fired back, pointing out that Berg has never been able to pass a bill out of the committee that he himself chairs.

“That’s really a question of his ineffectiveness,” she said. “What have you accomplished, Mr. Berg? How many bills have you passed?”

She emphasized that she’s a hands-on leader, citing a number of projects in which she says she was instrumental, including the construction a full-access road in Ewa Beach to relieve traffic. She also countered Berg’s claims about Campbell High School, noting she helped reduce truancy at the school.

Berg and Pine On Other Issues

But though the race is embroiled in real personality and leadership clashes, Berg and Pine have vowed to take similar approaches to some of the most pressing issues facing their district.

Berg has proposed making the landfill obsolete using technology to recycle all waste.

Pine holds a similar position, saying she supports exploring innovative techniques that other communities are using for recycling.

As for homelessness, Berg said government efforts haven’t sufficed.

“The government needs to get out of the way and let private land owners contribute to the plight of the economically challenged,” he said, referring to the 30,000 acres of fallow agriculture land along the Leeward Coast. “My solution is empowering the private sector.”

Berg has proposed an initiative that would let private landowners provide affordable housing to those in need in retrofitted shipping containers.

And Pine said more money needs to be put toward developing more permanent affordable housing, too. She also emphasized that the housing should also be accompanied by social services such as job assistance and mental health counseling.

“We need to take investment to the next level,” she said.

Pine said that the most pressing issues facing the district are unemployment and traffic congestion — problems that she said are interconnected.

“We need a leader that will promote higher paying jobs closer to where we live,” she said.

She pointed to regional job fairs and enhanced coordination among high schools, colleges and businesses as ways that goal can be fulfilled. “I want to look at ‘how do we start promoting jobs and get the right job training for jobs close to home?'”

When asked whether he would ever mend his relationship with Pine, Berg laughed.

“Baskin Robbins says it has 31 flavors of ice cream,” he said. “In the event down the road that somebody invents a new flavor, there’s always the possibility that we can agree to like it.”

Kahele: ‘Politics At Its Worst’

Pine won the primary, with 34 percent of the vote — some 6 percentage points above Berg. Less than 15,000 voters cast ballots for the race.

Former District 1 candidate Kahele, who supports rail, thinks Pine would represent the district best.

“He (Berg) hasn’t gotten anything done for us,” said Kahele, a longtime Makakilo resident. “There’s too much hostility, and for one thing, he doesn’t get along with the rest of the council people. We’re the ones that are suffering out here. He’s 120 percent against rail, ignoring the fact that we’re stuck in traffic.”

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