Friday, January 6, 2012

A Not-Very-Courageous Prediction for 2012: Newspaper Columnists Will Continue To Blast Rail

The season for making predictions for the New Year ended about a week ago, but we’re offering up one anyway because it's such a sure thing:

The Star-Advertiser troika of weekly columnists will write not a single paragraph of positive content about the Honolulu rail project in 2012.
Had we made this prediction a week ago, it would still be holding true through this week’s Wednesday-Thursday-Friday cycle of columns by Wednesday’s Dave Shapiro, Thursday’s Cynthia Oi and Friday’s Richard Borreca (left to right, below).

Frankly, there isn’t much courage in this prediction, since all three columnists have made their anti-rail views known repeatedly over the years – either with a cudgel over the head or their more subtle choice of words to describe Honolulu’s elevated transit project.

Take this week’s columns (subscription required). On Wednesday, David “Volcanic Ash” Shapiro used a connect-the-dots approach to imply there may be something unsavory about Carrie Okinaga’s acceptance of a new job with First Hawaiian Bank.

Ms. Okinaga is chairwoman of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), along with fellow board member Don Horner, who until last week was the bank’s CEO. Mr. Shapiro’s well-practiced cynicism leads him to conclude “…it seems at every turn (of the rail project) that payoffs are going to the connected few.”

“Payoff” is a loaded word that implies unethical behavior. If that was Mr. Shapiro’s intent, he undoubtedly succeeded in his ongoing campaign to erode public confidence in the rail project by painting it in the darkest colors possible.

On Thursday, Cynthia “Under the Sun” Oi added more hype to Ben Cayetano’s potential candidacy in this year’s mayoral race. The former governor wants to kill rail so bad he’s lent his name to the federal lawsuit conceived by anti-railer-in-chief Cliff Slater to block the project.

As the leading anti-rail candidate should he actually run, Mr. Cayetano would provide Ms. Oi with an abundance of material to work with in a continuation of her long-standing opposition to elevated, traffic-avoiding transit.

On Friday, Richard “On Politics” Borreca continued the discussion on Mr. Cayetano’s candicacy, saying it would be a game changer. As a columnist for several decades, Mr. Borreca knows how to turn a phrase with the best of them, but he also lets his personal views on the project slip through, intentionally or not. His column today calls rail a “huge, landscape-scarring, irreversible concrete monolith of heavy rail.”

Doing Their Job
Journalists often describe their business as comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. As for the latter, there’s no bigger target to view with alarm than the biggest construction project in state history.

The three columnists have a total of more than 100 years working in Honolulu journalism. Ms. Oi started at the Star-Bulletin in 1976; Mr. Shapiro’s “Volcanic Ash” website says he’s spent four decades in local journalism, and Mr. Borreca was already the Bulletin’s City Hall reporter when we took over that beat for the Advertiser in 1974.

That kind of longevity is explained by a combination of talent – they’re all excellent writers – and their selection of content over the years. Afflicting local government, elected and appointed officials and their projects is what they do and have done for decades. It’s their calling, and they’ve made it work for them.

Make no mistake about it, if public confidence has been shaken about rail, the Star-Advertiser’s weekly columnists have had a significant role in doing the shaking. They wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s their job, and their editors obviously are fine with it, too.

But the bigger picture is more telling. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser has consistently supported Honolulu rail in its editorials, just like the two independent papers that existed before they were joined in 2010. That support has been unshakable throughout all the twists and turns of this major infrastructure project.

We know what the troika doesn’t like, so maybe it’s time to ask them the same question rail’s leading non-journalist opponents like to avoid: “What kind of mass transit DO you support?”

The columnists won’t be any more eager to answer that one than Mr. Slater and his Gang of Four. If they tried, they’d be sunk as soon as “at-grade transit” passed their lips – for all the reasons we’ve thoroughly covered here at Yes2Rail.

The columnists might just learn something new about Honolulu's future train by visiting our “aggregation” site and the dozen posts below the Elevated vs At-Grade heading. Today's post has been added at that site under the Project Goals, and more heading.

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