Saturday, October 28, 2006

Bloomberg on eminent domain: majority rules!

Mayor Mike Bloomberg is clearly a savvy businessman and, many believe, a good public official. But he's never claimed to be a constitutional lawyer, and it shows. During his weekly appearance yesterday on the WABC AM call-in show hosted by John Gambling, Bloomberg offered a grab-bag defense of eminent domain that failed to engage the issue and suggested that, if most people want a project, condemnation for it is defensible.

The first caller from the public was Daniel Goldstein, spokesman for Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn and a plaintiff in the eminent domain suit filed Thursday. He referenced Bloomberg's recent criticism of the Public Authorities Control Board (PACB), the state body controlled by three members (Governor George Pataki, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno) that had just rejected the Moynihan Station plan.

DG: Last week on this show you called three men in a room in Albany undemocratic and unconstitutional, perhaps. And that same three men in a room will decide the fate of Atlantic Yards. And, as you know, yesterday, I and others filed an eminent domain lawsuit to protect our constitutional rights and you called us plaintiffs misguided, myopic, and selfish for trying to protect those rights. I’d like to ask you why you would call us that.

MB: Number one, Daniel, the courts, I guess, will decide whether or not the suit that you filed has any merit. That’s our system and, if the courts say you have merit, then you have recourse, and if the courts say you don’t, they’ll dismiss it. Our belief is that it is a frivolous lawsuit and there is no merit to it. But you’ll have your day in court and that’s exactly what democracy should give you.

Frivolous, meaning "not serious"? He could disagree with the lawsuit and defend the city's position without calling it frivolous.

Three men in a room

Bloomberg continued:
In terms of the three men in a room, I’m a believer in letting all of the members of the legislature vote. You do have to have some leadership, you can’t have everybody with their own bills, that’s just not the way democracy works--it’s too big, it’s not a republic, we have a democracy.

He basically reiterated his position, suggesting that the PACB is unconstitutional, but he didn't apply it to the Atlantic Yards case.

Eminent domain

Bloomberg continued, addressing eminent domain:
Eminent domain is one of those things that, it does take away some people’s rights, but there is a balance between individual rights and the rights of society. So, we for example, have laws that prohibit you from speeding, but we do it because it makes everybody safer. We have laws that let the—that force you sometimes to go to war, clearly infringing on your civil rights, if there’s ever a case—we’re sending you to fight and perhaps die, but we all agree we have to do that. We limit our freedom of speech, and there’s no greater defender of the First Amendment than me, but it is inappropriate, and it should be prohibited, from allowing somebody to stand up in a theater and, as a joke, scream fire, because people can get killed in the stampede on the way out.

Rather than discuss the draft or free speech, it would have been more apt for him to discuss the doctrine of eminent domain, which was originally designated for "public use," but which has since evolved to be for a "public purpose." Is the Atlantic Yards project a public purpose? And does the planning for the project meet the guidelines established in the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo decision, or was Forest City Ratner a favored developer?

Bloomberg continued:
In the case of eminent domain, it is--we have to keep changing our cities, and build the infrastructure and have the jobs and the housing, and you can’t just let one person stop all of that. I’m not in favor of, when most people are against something, doing it. But, for example, the Nets development, which is what you’re talking about, Daniel, out in Brooklyn, overwhelmingly favored by people in Brooklyn and throughout the city, and I think that’s an appropriate thing for use of government powers. A handful of people, I’m sorry for them, but they will get fairly compensated, but you can’t just let any one person stop all development, and that’s when eminent domain comes in.


The value of "the jobs and the housing" is contested in the lawsuit. Does 60 percent in favor--based on a deeply deceptive Crain's poll--qualify as "overwhelmingly"? Even if a legitimate poll established "overwhelming" support for the project, would it pass muster if it didn't meet the guidelines set in Kelo? And, yes, eminent domain is supposed to deal with the "holdout" problem, but in this case are the "handful of people" trying to "stop all development" or are they trying to stop one development they believe that proceeds through undemocratic means?

Goldstein was silent, not allowed to ask a follow-up question or to interject. Apparently when the mayor speaks, his questioner is cut off.

1 comment:

  1. At least the mayor is being consistent. He didn't allow freedom of speech or association during the Republican National Convention.

    ReplyDelete