Cover Story

Mayoral candidate Kirk Caldwell and former governor Ben Cayetano
Image: Matthew Kain(l) and Deron Kamisato(r)

There’s a lot of green talk in Honolulu’s mayoral campaign. Voters now have to separate the substance from the hype.

With Ben Cayetano opposing the Honolulu Rail on environmental grounds, and Kirk Caldwell supporting the Rail as green, it’s time to take a look at which one is the more credible advocate for the environment. What are their histories? Their associations? How do these histories compute in the present?

In his eight years as governor (1994-2002), Ben Cayetano compiled a long environmental record, about which he says remarkably little. He helped preserve wilderness sites such as the Ka Iwi/Sandy Beach Coastline and scenic landmarks such as Mount Olomana. He mobilized public/private partnerships against invasive miconia and the brown tree snake. He banned commercialization of the Hanalei River on Kauai. He oversaw establishing the Hawaiian Islands Whale Sanctuary and laid groundwork for the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands National Monument.

As chair of the Western Governors Association, he became a force in supporting clean air and clean water legislation, as well as cleanup initiatives such as the Superfund (which deals with abandoned waste sites).

Initially because of his promises, and then because of his performance in office, the Sierra Club twice endorsed Cayetano for governor.

Opponent Kirk Caldwell’s executive experience is defined by four months as acting mayor and eighteen months as the City managing director under Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Otherwise, his public eco-record largely revolves around legislation to exempt the Superferry from environmental regulation (see next page).

Following are comparisons of how the candidates approach specific environmental issues, and of their eco- impacts as public servants.

Rail’s visual blight

Long before Cayetano thought about running for mayor, he was talking to community groups about the visual and environmental impacts of the Rail. He showed people the rendering of the Rail as its elevated columns and station intersected with downtown Bishop Street. “Is this what we want to do to our City?” he asked. If he did not have an easel with him, he would hold up the rendering himself while he talked.

Caldwell served in 2009 and 2010 as managing director and then acting mayor. His campaign website describes him as the “primary point person” for transit.

On May 22, 2012, Caldwell attempted to distance himself from the Rail project that Hannemann, he and Mayor Peter Carlisle had overseen. He proposed expanding the landscaping around the Rail line and designing the stations with neighborhood input. In a televised presentation, Caldwell also spoke about moving columns that are highly visible from Bishop Street so they would be “hidden” behind buildings.

Saving ag land

Cayetano testified before the State Land Use Commission against redesignating Ho’opili from agriculture to urban. Caldwell supported the developer. One of Caldwell’s law partners, Benjamin Kudo, represented the Ho’opili developer.

Although Caldwell supported urbanization of Ho’opili, he said, “Honolulu needs an indisputable Green Buffer Zone, limited only to agricultural development.” He further qualified his position by saying, “the urbanization of some agricultural land is a compromise that must be considered in the name of providing more affordable housing.”

Overlooking the fact that the State Land Use Commission has the final say on land use designations, Caldwell said he was compelled by the fact that Ho’opili is inside the City-defined Urban Growth Boundary. “If we expect that tool to be effective,” Caldwell said, “we must honor the rights for landowners to urbanize within the line…we don’t always like such decisions, but we have to honor the process. At the same time…I would strongly oppose any exemptions outside of the Urban Growth Boundary.”

Caldwell’s position effectively supported the urbanization of the green belt of rich agricultural land between Honolulu and Kapolei. In contrast to the weight Caldwell assigned to the City’s Urban Growth Boundary, Cayetano as governor defended the continued functioning of the Land Use Commission in the face of political attacks.


Cayetano’s determination to stop the Rail resulted in part from his concern for balancing City expenditures on transit with the multi-billion dollar problems of sewage treatment and water system repairs, which he has made into a campaign issue. As governor, Cayetano facilitated numerous low-interest loans to the four counties for sewer projects.

Caldwell acknowledges the importance of these two subjects but not in terms of the taxpayer burden at stake (or what the Federal Transit Authority refers to as a “revenue stress test”). Caldwell was City managing director under Mayor Mufi Hannemann when Hannemann–after spending large sums on resisting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines–signed a consent decree with the Federal government on sewage treatment that will cost the City an estimated $5 billion.

Beach business

Cayetano flatly supported banning commercial activity from Kailua and Kalama Beach Parks, a position eventually taken by the City Council. Caldwell said some sort of compromise is needed to be reached. In his responses to this issue, Cayetano frequently cited his executive order as governor banning commercial activity on the Hanalei River.

This could go on, but print space is finite. Read the next page for each candidate’s histories, and see the web sources listed below. Then decide for yourself: With Ben Cayetano opposing the Honolulu Rail on environmental grounds, and Kirk Caldwell supporting the Rail as green, which one is the more credible advocate for the environment?

As a board member of Hawaii’s Thousand Friends, Tom Coffman is a plaintiff in the Federal environmental suit against the Rail. He is a Cayetano supporter.

Research Sources

Cayetano’s record

Price of Paradise (POP) Accountability Group Report [].

Sierra Club analysis by attorney David Kimo Frankel (scroll to p. 23, 24) [].

Web records of the National Governor’s Conference and the Western Governor’s Conference are vague in comparison to POP and the Hawaii Sierra Club but reflect his concerns playing out on a regional and national level. [], National Governors Association “Issues / Positions” 01-NGA9 on Aug 1, 2001

For references to accountability, Dr. Anderson, others, see []

Caldwell’s record

For Caldwell’s role in the Superferry: []

For Caldwell’s “lessons learned” OpEd see: []

For Superferry votes and Caldwell’s legislative ratings by Sierra Club see:


For the final Hawaii Supreme Court ruling in March 2009, summarizing earlier rulings and legislative history, see []

For Sierra Club Hawaii’s views of the Hannemann administration, see []