Mayoral hopefuls will debate tonight
The three candidates likely will discuss rail and might note their rivals' weaknesses
The three top candidates for mayor will face off in their first major debate tonight in what is expected to be a fiery discussion of political experience, leadership styles and the city's proposed $4 billion rail transit system.
The mayoral race between Mayor Mufi Hannemann, City Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi and University of Hawaii-Manoa engineering professor Panos Prevedouros has intensified in recent weeks with a surge of television and radio advertisements, though the three have had little public interaction with each other.
The most visible issue of the mayor's race remains Hannemann's proposed 20-mile elevated transit system running from Kapolei to Ala Moana, with groundbreaking scheduled for late next year. But the candidates and their campaign teams say the debate scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the Hawaii Theatre also will give them the chance to highlight the weaknesses in their opponents.
Hannemann, in an uncharacteristic move, has refrained from strongly criticizing his opponents publicly. But in a recent meeting with Star-Bulletin editors and reporters, he questioned the judgment of his best-known contender and former supporter, Kobayashi, saying she has no executive experience and "flip-flopped" on several issues in the past.
"She showed bad judgment in many cases," Hannemann said. "Let me take rail, for example. She said she voted for a fixed guideway and voted to approve the tax, yet she's pushing a technology that doesn't exist or can't be funded. She's equivocated between, 'Well, it's a bus,' 'Well, it's not really bus.' She gives you different answers depending on the day of the week. I really believe her judgment would be put out to question."
Hannemann also pointed out Kobayashi's last-minute filing for mayor on the last day possible, which led to several disastrous candidacy mishaps with former City Councilman Duke Bainum in an uncontested race for her old seat.
"Her career has been a series of flip-flops," Hannemann said. "First, she was a Republican, then she became a Democrat. She loved me in 2004 and campaigned against Duke; today she loves Duke but doesn't like me."
Hannemann is a formidable debater, as proved in 2004 in his successful mayoral race against Bainum.
"(Hannemann) is a piper of politics," said City Councilman Donovan Dela Cruz, who is also serving as Kobayashi's campaign manager. "He's going to sound very good. The microphone is his flute. Ann is not going to let anyone bully her."
Kobayashi has indirectly criticized Hannemann's leadership style, his repeated refusal to commit to the full four-year term as mayor and delays in environment-related projects.
"Where Ann can differentiate herself is, she can work with other people," Dela Cruz said. "Unfortunately, that's what we heard from Mufi four years ago, and that hasn't been achieved."
Prevedouros, a first-time political candidate, has been dubbed a one-issue candidate because of his fierce opposition to rail. While he has weighed in on several visible city issues - such as the landfill closure and curbside recycling - he is most passionate when talking about Hannemann's handling of the rail project.
Tonight's event might be the only televised debate of the mayoral campaign, with the nonpartisan primary election on Sept. 20. For a candidate to win that race outright, he or she must get 50 percent of the votes plus one.