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‘Ewa makai school town hall meeting.
Image: COURTESY OF THE OFFICE OF TOM BERG

The Conformist

The Weekly interviewed District 1 city councilman Tom Berg back in July [see “Rail Done Right,” July 6], well before the police were called to a Waipahu Neighborhood Board meeting when he refused to stand down, and an allegedly drunken argument took place with APEC security details. At the time, it was hard not to agree with a lot of what he had to say about the rail project’s misgivings. Six months later, buffoonery aside, his views still make sense.

But will anyone listen to him now? Berg met with the Weekly to discuss his regrets and his new approach.


Tell us what happened during APEC on Nov. 12 at the Hale Koa–why were you so angry? Did you really expect to be let back into a presidential event without any credentials at all?

I was given an invitation by email, and went to the Kahala Hotel and checked in. And [I] was scrutinized there to make sure I was who I was. I got on a shuttle bus and got dropped off inside a secure area. I walked in the event without a badge, without anyone checking my name…The same people who saw me walk in, saw me walk out.

To walk right by them, and merely say “I forgot my phone,” and try to go back, and [for them to] accuse me of being a party crasher–that’s not how you handle this type of event in my opinion.

So there’s a misunderstanding here; being a Monday night quarterback, I’m saying we both could have handled this better. So, I’m contrite. I will take responsibility, and I apologize to them for my behavior, absolutely.

You’ve been called confrontational, abrasive and rude. What gives? Do you think you push things a little more than necessary at times?

The answer is yes. To me, government doesn’t move fast enough. To me, everyone [should have] an opportunity to exhaust their opinions. I always think there’s a win-win in every situation, that’s my philosophy–that it doesn’t have to be one or the other, it really doesn’t.

My boisterous, belligerent, argumentative, confrontational behavior has really stemmed [from] being stymied on this rail… but trying to get the media to pay attention to me, I’ve had to be boisterous to get somebody to listen to me. I was the first guy to object to Ansaldo with a resolution, back in March I believe. Four months later some other city councilmen say, “Wow, yeah, maybe Berg is right,” …well I had to make a lot of noise to get to that point. I had to go testify before HART [Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation], make an ass of myself. I’m not proud of my behavior.

As the public feeling towards rail seems to ebb and become more cautious, where do you see the project heading?

There is due diligence that should be done, and done immediately. People have gotten educated. The last thing the city wants to do is let the voter vote again. The city knows that rail will not succeed if put on the ballot. They don’t even want to have it discussed.

I believe my constituents, by majority, don’t want this rail. Maybe they did five years ago. But today, after being educated–after seeing what has happened with Ansaldo, after seeing what has happened with HART–to see that the game has been fixed, I think a lot have remorse. I think a lot have misgivings and maybe feel duped.

Do you think the current federal trial has a chance of stopping or holding up the rail?

I don’t like this lawsuit, and I don’t like attorneys–that the taxpayer is paying for–feeding off the public trough. That’s why I came up with a resolution saying just do the supplemental EIS [Environmental Impact Study] anyways. If we expended the funds to do a supplemental EIS, it would take six months to do. Let’s assume Cayetano and the gang are successful and get relief. The relief they’re seeking, merely is, do a supplemental EIS. So why spend all this taxpayer money and take a risk? Why not just do it?

With all the assumptions that people are probably making about you right now, what would you like people to know about you and what you are trying to accomplish in city council?

What I’d like them to know is I’ve taken heed to the criticism, and I’ve sharpened and honed in on my delivery skills to be more effective to serve.

My new Tom Berg–the conforming Tom Berg–is not going back to the APEC video. He’s not going back to his behavior in committees, because he’s not getting his measures heard. This Tom Berg is here to serve, and has acted on behalf of all sides of his constituents. I have people who want this rail, and I have people who don’t want this rail. So I’ve been the conduit for both sides to get a hearing so that everybody feels comfortable. I’m fighting for a consensus. I think this civil war that is happening in our town is most unfortunate, and I think I have solutions to make us all back up this rail.

For more information on the current, ongoing federal trial, see Nov. 23 Diary “On Trial.”