December 26, 2005

Kelo Update: Suzette Kelo Interview

Filed under: Economy,Taxes & Government — Tom @ 4:42 pm

Melanie Kilpatrick did a nice job of humanizing the woman who stood up and said “Stop!” in New London (bolds are mine):

….. Ms. Kelo came home to New London in 1997 after a divorce and bought the house on East Street, less than a mile from where she had grown up. The 1893 cottage was so ramshackle that “I actually had to cut brush away to get to the front door because it was so overgrown.” “I bought it in July,” she says, “and started fixing it up. . . . Everything in the house is new, really . . . from the cement in the basement to the shingles on the roof.”

Today the house is a homey hodgepodge of antiques, family photos and framed samplers cross-stitched by Ms. Kelo. The chairs around the kitchen table were crafted by Hitchcock, a venerable Connecticut furniture maker, and bought for a song. “Honey, I’m a bargain shopper,” she boasts. The exterior is painted pale pink–the color of the sky at dusk in the view from the front porch, which overlooks the spot where the Thames River meets the Atlantic and the Long Island Sound. On an outside wall, not far from where a Christmas wreath hangs, is a sign that reads: “Not for Sale.” Those three words are her manifesto.

Ms. Kelo’s picturesque home on East Street is like thousands of clapboard New England cottages found in towns up and down the Atlantic coast–with one distinguishing feature: It stands in the middle of nowhere, on a treeless block that has been razed and cleared. Most of Ms. Kelo’s neighbors moved out years ago, after receiving their condemnation notices. “As soon as [the development corporation] acquired a property, they’d come in here and tear it down. So when you’d go to court it would be a moot point because there would be nothing left to fight for.”

Also gone are the street signs. The development corporation “wanted to strip the neighborhood of its identity,” she says, her voice rising in outrage. So “they renamed our streets ‘blocks.’ This is supposedly Block 4A . . . to make it seem like nobody lives here.” There were 90 houses in Fort Trumbull in 1997. There are about a dozen left today.

Even without street signs, Ms. Kelo has no trouble getting her mail. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled against her, she’s heard from people all around the country. “They call ya, they write ya,” says Ms. Kelo. “Absolutely. [I've got letters] addressed to ‘Susette Kelo, Somewhere Near Pfizer’s'; ‘Susette Kelo, Fort Trumbull’; ‘Susette Kelo, Eminent Domain, New London, Conn.’” Within days of the Supreme Court decision, she says, “the whole country rallied, which really was the best part” of this whole ordeal.

Will Ms. Kelo get to keep her home on East Street? Scott Bullock, her lawyer at the Institute for Justice, the public-interest law firm that has represented her and six other Fort Trumbull plaintiffs from the start, thinks the politics work in her favor. When the development corporation sent her an eviction notice in September, the public outcry was so great that Gov. Jodi Rell ordered it rescinded. Ms. Kelo says she’s content if the condos go up around her. “I never was against the development,” she says. “We simply want to stay. You know. Build your condominiums.”

And the past? “Well, jeez. What have I learned? I’m from the government and I’m here to help you?” No way, her look makes clear. “That the government is not here to help you. That you can fight city hall. . . . This really isn’t about me anymore. It’s about every American across the country. Of course, there’s . . . always going to be somebody else with more money who’s going to able to come into [a neighborhood] and create jobs or taxes and take out someone like me–or you.”


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