During a Monday forum sponsored by the Kokua Council, both candidates for Honolulu mayor said they would support the direct funding of senior services by the city.
“I’m committed to do that,” said Kirk Caldwell, the former managing director under Mayor Mufi Hannemann. “The kinds of things I’d want to see in terms of direct services are things like bathing assistance, home delivery meals, companion services (and) prescription drug delivery.”
Ben Cayetano, the former two-term Democratic governor who finished first in the Aug. 12 primary, said senior issues have always been one of his top priorities after seeing his father struggle with dementia before his death in 1994.
“When he retired I took a look at how much money he was getting from Social Security and his pension, and I knew right off it was not enough for him to live, at least reasonably, in Hawaii,” said Cayetano.
Caldwell used the hour-long forum as an opportunity to unveil his seven point Senior Initiative. Part of the plan calls on city agencies to help seniors age in place, fast-tracks a response to pedestrian fatalities among the elderly, and convenes a senior summit with city, state and federal stakeholders.
“We could then talk about, ‘How can the city ramp up its delivery of services to seniors throughout this island,” Caldwell said about his idea to arrange a summit.
However, Cayetano jumped on Caldwell’s summit plan, calling it an “escape hatch” for politicians who don’t have real solutions.
“They’re have been conferences up the yin-yang,” said Cayetano. “We know what has to be done, and Kirk knew what had to be done when he was with the city. “
Although the planned $5.3 billion rail project from East Kapolei to Ala Moana has taken center stage in the mayor’s race the past nine months, it took about 40 minutes for the issue to be raised during the forum. When it was, Caldwell accused Cayetano of being a one-issue candidate who will turn his back on $1.55 billion in federal funds.
“It took about 45 minutes to find out the real reason why Ben is running, and that’s because he wants to kill rail,” said Caldwell. “I’m running for all the other reasons.”
Cayetano shot back, saying the rail project impacts almost every aspect of city government and will increase the cost of living for seniors. He also accused Caldwell of being rail-centric during his time in the Hannemann administration.
“The problem is that administration focused mainly on the rail project,” said Cayetano. “That's why the buses are being short-changed, and that's why the focus has been on rail to the exclusion of the sewers, the water and everything else.”
After the forum, the candidates did agree on at least one issue related to rail transit: Both said one month after a Hawaii Supreme Court decision halted construction of the project, the transit authority needs to tell taxpayers exactly how much delays are costing.
“That's something they should've been able to provide,” said Cayetano.
“I think they need to provide that updated estimate," Caldwell added.
Audio of the forum can be heard on the Kokua Council website, at KokuaCouncil.org. The forum was held at Harris United Methodist Church on Vineyard Boulevard.