Pro- and anti-rail efforts should spur taxpayer involvement
Two groups have begun a media campaign in support of the city's rail transit project.
WITH so much at stake, it's no wonder that the city's rail transit project has drawn the attention and the financial investment of organizations that see opportunity in the venture.
The recent entry of an aggressive group opposed to the undertaking has prompted response from pro-rail contingents that will spend big money in media campaigns to get their point across.
None of this is improper. In fact, the activities might encourage indifferent taxpayers to explore the issue more deeply as the city moves forward with a project that will change land values, shift development and urban renewal, alter visible features of the island and shape the economy for years to come.
The Hawaii Carpenters Union has bought at least 260 commercial television spots per month for three months, generally to air during prime time and sporting events, to push for the $4 billion rail system. The union's support is clearly in line with its interests; its 5,900 members will gain job opportunities as a result of rail.
Less transparent is Support Rail Transit, created by McNeil Wilson Communications, the largest public relations company in Hawaii.
One of the firm's principals, David Wilson, declined to disclose to the Star-Bulletin's Laurie Au who is behind the newly formed nonprofit group. The group's Web site is equally vague, stating only that it "consists of a cross-section of Hawaii organizations and individuals who believe rail transit is an essential element in a sustainable Oahu."
While there is no suggestion of impropriety, the group's message will be clouded by the anonymity since people prefer to know whose endorsement they are hearing.
Both groups hope to counter Stop Rail Now's petition drive to put a question on the ballot of the November elections. The question's wording - "Shall an ordinance be adopted to prohibit trains and rail transit in the City and County of Honolulu" - doesn't exactly match the group's assertion that its purpose is simply to allow taxpayers a say in a decision on transit. Instead, it would ban the city from doing what elected officials, after years of debate and consideration, have chosen to do until the ordinance is repealed.
If Stop Rail Now succeeds in getting nearly 45,000 eligible voters to sign its petitions, it then will have to persuade a majority to approve the ballot question. In that case, a second wave of public persuasion efforts will begin. By then, we hope, taxpayers will have looked beyond polished ads and sound bites to make an informed choice about their city and their future.