October 27, 2005: how to stop worrying and learn to love land grabbers, quasi-public agencies and aluminum coifed cronies.
Most important is a sense of humor. Or you could end up stressed
to the max. Maybe even kicking off-- like elderly victims of
eminent domain attacks. The problem with old people is they don't
understand grand social plans. When quasi-public agencies tell
them they have to give up their homes to make way for private
development deals, oldsters just can't grasp how this translates
into public use. Plus the elderly are so often encumbered
by their love of home and loyalty to place.
Pasquale Cristofaro immigrated from Italy to New London,
Connecticut in 1962. The first home the Cristofaro family owned
was taken by the city in the early 70's, in order to make way
for a sea wall. (New London is on the coast.) Cristofaro and his
family felt sad but understood that the U.S. Constitution allows
government the right to take private property for public use.
They also understood the public good of a sea wall. Though later
they felt a tad stung when the sea wall wasn't built and an
industrial park rose in its place. But hey-- situations change.
Perhaps the Atlantic Ocean cut a deal with the city. Anyway, the
Cristofaros were happy in their new home in the Fort Trumbull
neighborhood. Life goes on.
But by the late 90's, the city wanted to take their second home.
Acting in concert with the New London Development Corporation
(NLDC). A state funded quasi-public agency. City officials and
the NLDC had decided to bulldoze the Fort Trumbull neighborhood
in order to make way for a more upscale private development
project that would enhance the real estate interests of Pfizer
Inc. And oh yes-- increase the municipal tax base. The "public
use" cited to justify the use of eminent domain. Dissident
neighborhood residents fought the city and the NLDC all the way
to the U.S. Supreme Court (Kelo v. City of New London). Though
property titles in Fort Trumbull had already been transferred to
the NLDC, evictions were stayed during the legal process.
In June, 2005 the Supremes decided to let New London's version
of "public use" stand. The Court did not rule on just what
constitutes "public use" as referenced in the Constitution, it
merely allowed states to continue to make their own laws re
eminent domain. A position the American Planning Association
(APA) argued for when it submitted an amicus brief in support
of New London and the NLDC. Saying the courts should not
second-guess the legislative decisions of city councils and
other locally elected bodies about what "public use" means in
each local community.*
Many believe that in not defining what constitutes "public use"
the Supreme Court abdicated its role as interpreters of the
Constitution and left the fundamental freedom of property rights
twisting in the wind. And others would no doubt agree that when
it came to segregation, it's lucky the Supreme Court didn't
rule in favor of not second guessing locally elected bodies.
Among the Cristofaros' neighbors in Fort Trumbull was Walter
Pasqualini. Mr. Pasqualini was 95 in 2000. Living in the house
where he was born. Though the NLDC promised Walter Pasqualini,
plus his wife and sister-in-law, that they could live in their
home until they died, the assurance provided him no peace of
mind. Perhaps he had little faith in promises made by quasi-public agencies. Or maybe the promise smacked of a death watch.
Before Walter Pasqualini died in 2000 he cried every day.
Worrying that he and his family would be put out of their home.
The Cristofaros had other elderly neighbors whose lives were
woven into Fort Trumbull. Some bent to the will of the NLDC,
though they would have preferred to stay. The stress of living
in an embattled situation was too much for them. As for Pasquale
Cristofaro, his son Michael became one of the most active voices
in the fight against the "taking" of Fort Trumbull. According to
Michael Cristofaro** one of the hardest things he ever had to do
was tell his father about the Supreme Court decision. That it
was now acceptable for their family's property to be taken by
government based on the claim that someone else could make better
financial use of it. Michael Cristofaro himself, after 6 years of
battling the NLDC, still has a hard time with the concept of
a "semi-public agency".
Pat Kelly of the Park South neighborhood in Albany, New York was
another person who couldn't get with the program. She died this
Summer of cancer. Pat was in her 60's. Not ultra elderly but
getting there. Park South, where she'd lived for over 40 years,
was slated for redevelopment. Which was fine with her. But the
plan launched by the administration of Mayor Jerry Jennings
allowed the "preferred developer" to use the power of eminent
domain. Though only if the Common Council signed on. The council
obliged. To be fair, city officials and reps from the quasi-public Albany Local Development Corporation (ALDC) repeatedly
reassured everyone that eminent domain would be used only
sparingly-- if at all. And though anti eminent domain activists
say such reassurances are typically false, what do they know
about the rep of the Jennings administration re truth telling?
I talked with Pat Kelly about a month before she went into the
hospital from whence she never returned. She said she didn't
understand how peoples' property could be taken and given to
private developers. But then, Pat wasn't an urban planner with
a grand social vision. She wasn't even a property owner. Just a
blue collar tenant who gave decades of her life to a neighborhood
she loved. As Park South slid downward beneath the weight of
municipal neglect and drug trade she worked to reverse the
trend. Forming and maintaining a reliable Walk & Watch-- an
accomplishment that ultimately won an award from the office of
the New York State Attorney General. The Walk & Watch was
frequently stressful. Pat's stress load ratcheted up when the
city started talking eminent domain. The last years of her life
were spent fearing that the blocks she'd fought for would be
bulldozed-- and watching long standing neighborhood friendships
unravel as manipulation and pressure were brought to bear by
public and quasi-public servants.
Pat Kelly's medical condition doubtless took root prior to the
arrival of eminent domain on her doorstep. Presumably this was so
with Walter Pasqualini as well. But who knows to what degree the
stress of living under its shadow sped their demise. At the very
least it meant two elderly people, who'd been good citizens, died
feeling the social contract had been twisted into something they
no longer recognized.
But back to the humor thing. For instance, it's funny how the
NLDC, the quasi-public agency that wanted to evict the
Cristofaros wound up being targeted for eviction by the city
council. The NLDC was ultimately saved from having to hit the
road by Governor Jodi Rell and Connecticut's Department of
Economic and Community Development (DECD). The public agency that
uses taxpayer dollars to finance quasi-public agencies such as
the NLDC. Rell and the DECD pressured the city council into
rescinding their notice to quit, but as a sop to citizen
discontent also strong-armed the NLDC into ditching its chief
operating officer David Goebel. President Michael Joplin remains
in place. Tune in for the upcoming municipal elections. Among
the candidates for city council is Michael Cristofaro.
On the larger Connecticut stage, Peter Ellef, X Chief of Staff
to X Governor John Rowland, pled guilty on October 25th to
bribery and conspiracy to commit tax fraud in relation to the
construction of a juvenile correction facility. One of many
transactions covered in the original indictment. As Ellef pled
out sighs of relief were heard in state places. If Ellef and his
co-conspirator, developer William Tomasso, had stood trial the
prosecution would have raked Connecticut's crony laden public
contracting processes-- plus myriad public and quasi-public
agencies-- over the media coals. Incidentally, among Ellef's
numerous public and quasi-public jobs was a stint as head of the
Department of Economic and Community Development. The DECD, John
Rowland, Peter Ellef and Pfizer Inc. were the source from which
the Fort Trumbull project in New London originally sprang.
As said, the American Planning Association (APA) filed an amicus
brief with the U. S. Supreme Court supporting New London's use of
eminent domain. The chair of APA's Amicus Curiae Committee is an
associate dean at Albany Law School. Albany Law School is part
of the University Heights Association (UHA) a non-profit
consortium of medical and legal facilities. Park South, where Pat
Kelly used to live, adjoins the University Heights neighborhood.
The UHA, with expansion in mind, has been a force behind the
Park South Redevelopment Plan. Now the UHA is being sued by the
Marty and Dorothy Silverman Foundation. The Albany Law School
is also listed as a defendant.
The Silverman Foundation is headed by philanthropist Marty
Silverman. He claims the UHA owes the Foundation almost 25
million dollars in unpaid real estate loans and accrued interest.
According to Silverman, the UHA cut cheap rent deals for the
Albany Law School and the Albany School of Pharmacy on property
which actually belongs to the Foundation due to the unpaid loans.
Furthermore, instead of using whatever rent was gathered to pay
back the Foundation loans, the monies allegedly went toward
service bonds issued by the City of Albany Industrial Development
Agency (CAIDA). Which financed the construction of buildings
for the Albany Law School and the College of Pharmacy. CAIDA
is administered by the staff of the quasi-public Albany Local
Development Corporation (ALDC). Obtaining financing via CAIDA
means all sorts of breaks. Such as exemption from local property
taxes. And materials used in CAIDA construction projects are
free from state and local sales taxes.
The punchline to this lengthy set-up is that Marty Silverman
has declared that "when we win this lawsuit, Albany Law School
will have to relocate." Saying he wants the Albany Law School
"off the land." Silverman has also referenced the better use to
which he could put the property-- i.e. making Albany into "the
Mayo Clinic of the 21st century".***
Is that a public good-- or what?
In New Jersey, the gubernatorial race is coming down to the wire,
with plutocrats Doug Forrestor and Jon Corzine running nyuck &
nyuck. Surprising considering Corzine the Mighty was once thought
unbeatable. But despite the importance of seeming a reformer in
this year's election, Corzine hasn't been able to shed his pal-
to-machine-pols image. It's as if George Norcross III were
Corzine's running mate. Once upon a time South Jersey's most
prominent puppet master was pretty much of an unmentionable
outside regional political circles. Now it's Norcross this and
Norcross that. Usually proceeded by the phrase "controversial
political boss". Oddly, George Norcross 3, Peter Ellef the X, and
David Goebel of the NLDC sport very similar coifs. A silver gray
fluffy look reminiscent of Mister Phelps on Mission Impossible.
Could Norcross, Ellef and Goebel be members of that quasi-secret
society, the Cyrkle of Aluminum Cronies? (Aka CAC.) But then,
they could just shop at the same paint store.
Since Corzine has a problem with reform creds, you'd think
he'd want to stop by and say "hi" to the anti pay-to-play, pro
transparency folks at People for Open Government (POG) in
Hoboken-- Corzine's Hudson County hometown. But despite a
standing invite the Mighty One hasn't dropped in. I'd hate
to think it's because the anti pay-to-play ordinance POG got
passed as law in Hoboken was fought tooth and claw by assorted
controversial political bosses.
Come one come all. Carnivals of Liberty are being held in the
blogosphere. Check out one dishing the overall topic of public
corruption at http://www.ericsgrumbles.net/archives/128592.php.
From there, skip over to Everyman Chronicles. Where Robert W.
Chandler posts re the spread of eminent domain. (Corruption &
eminent domain increasingly appear as tandem topics.) Someone
named "Ogre" weighs in with a question about when the line
between government and business became so blurred. And closes
with: "Come and get my land, you money grubbing bottom feeders,
if you can!"
Smells like 1776 spirit.
Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff
"Why can't these ghouls & goblins just make money the good old
Sally From Sin City to Mondo QT
"You don't learn from people suffering from poverty but from
experts who have studied the problem."
Spiro T. Agnew, 10/28/68, The Wisdom of Spiro T. Agnew,
Ballantine Books, 1969
*"APA Urges Supreme Court to Retain Eminent Domain for
Economic Development," News Release, 02/17/05. American Planning
**In a speech given by Michael Cristofaro at the 9th Annual
National Conference on Private Property Rights on 10/22/05. An
event presented by The Property Rights Foundation of America.
***"Philanthropist demands $24M from Albany recipients of his
largesse," Richard A. D'Errico, 10/16/05, The Business Review
(Albany) and MSNBC
Q. Is my face red? A. As a beet! On October 27th I attended the
9th annual National Property Rights Conference in Albany, New
York. The event was enlightening on many levels-- but that's
another story. Michael Cristofaro of New London was one of the
speakers. His presentation was compelling. In it he spoke of the
impact of eminent domain on his family, including his father
Pasquale Cristofaro. As well as it's impact on their elderly
neighbor, Walter Pasqualini. In the original version of the QT
story above, I mixed up the facts of Pasquale Cristofaro's life
with those of the late Mr. Pasqualini. My only excuse is that
I was coming down with the flu when I attended the conference,
which might have muddled my perceptions. None the less, I should
have been more careful. My apologies.
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