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Dr. Strangedeal or:
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.

Dem Briefs

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?

Other Undergarments

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.

Last Laffs

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 fashioned way?"

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 Association

**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

Correction

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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Copyright (c) 2005 by Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff. This material may be freely distributed subject to the terms and conditions set forth in the Open Publication License. This license relieves the author of any liability or implication of warranty, grants others permission to use the Content in whole or in part, and insures that the original author will be properly credited when Content is used. It also grants others permission to modify and redistribute the Content if they clearly mark what changes have been made, when they were made, and who made them. Finally, the license insures that if someone else bases a work on this Content, that the resultant work will be made available under the Open Publication License as well.


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