January 7, 2009

Nearly 10 Years Later, Monument to Favoritism in Kelo Ruling Still Stands

A link to a story in the New London (CT) Day (story will be available for only a few days) arrived in my e-mail yesterday thanks to a Google alert:

Deed Gives NL Building A New Address
Italian Dramatic Club outlived street it used to be on in fort area

The story stands as a bitter reminder of the blatant favoritism that took place during the sad saga of Susette Kelo and her neighbors in the Ft. Trumbull area of that Connecticut town.

Ms. Kelo and her neighbors had their homes condemned, and ultimately lost in appeals that went all the way to the Supreme Court, where in June 2005 that court’s majority ruled that when our Founders wrote “public use” in the Constitution’s 5th Amendment (i.e., building a bridge, or a road, or a school), they really meant “public purpose” (doing anything the government deems to be a worthy cause, including taking someone’s property and conveying it to another for a worthy “development” cause).

As you can see from the following Google Earth map image that is probably about two years old, the Italian Dramatic Club (IDC) sits virtually alone at 79 Chelsea Street:


The remaining houses seen near the bottom on Wabash Street were vacant, and have probably been demolished. If I recall correctly, Susette Kelo’s pink house was at the corner of East Street and Wabash. The home of other final holdouts, the Cristofaros, was next door to the IDC.

The IDC is a private social club for well-connected political elites in the surrounding area. Key paragraphs from the Day’s story explain why it’s still there:

It’s been nearly 10 years since the New London Development Corp. decided to spare a private social club in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood while razing nearly all other houses, stores, churches and office buildings.

….. When the Fort Trumbull Municipal Development plan was approved in 1999, the club, which was built in 1922 by Italians from the region of Fano, Italy, was supposed to be torn down along with the rest of the neighborhood. But the club, which offers monthly dinners to its members and guests, was spared demolition. Aldo Valentini, the late trustee of the club, said in 2000 that the 108 members were ready to fight to keep the wrecking ball away but were soon told by the NLDC that they could stay.

Jay Levin, a New London attorney who is a friend of several members of the club, worked with the NLDC to spare the club.

”We were hearing the place was going to be torn down. But I never believed that would be the case,” he said at the time. “I think the NLDC recognized that as the city changes, aspects of the city’s heritage have to remain sacrosanct.”

….. years later, after litigation that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, property owners lost their fight. Today, every building on the 90-acre site is gone, except for a relatively new office building at 1 Chelsea St. and the IDC.

Notice how careful the Day is to avoid mentioning what seems to have become its own version of a four-letter word: Kelo.

The national media almost never mentioned the IDC’s free pass, which I consider an epic fail given the gravity of the case. A Google News Archive search on ["Italian Dramatic Club" New London] for 1998 through 2006 (typed as indicated within brackets) has only 14 results. Only two true news items are from 2001, when the IDC received its exemption, and they are local. There are excellent Jewish World Review columns by John Fund in 2001 and and Doug Bandow in 2002. There is an odious February 2005 Washington Post editorial that, while noting the blatant double standard, nonetheless says that “federal courts shouldn’t be second-guessing the city’s determination of how best to accomplish that very public goal (of development).” Otherwise, the coverage of this important element of the Kelo situation is almost as barren as the Ft. Trumbull area involved is today.

Oh, did I forget to note that a New York Times search on “Italian Dramatic Club” indicates that the paper never mentioned its exemption during the entire term of the case?

If the IDC’s exemption from the wrecking ball had been known to the public during the Kelo saga, I daresay that the attitudes of many who followed the case might have been more sympathetic to the litigants.

Meanwhile in the affected area, 2008 ended as 2007 and 2006 did, with nothing substantive done. But we’re still supposed to believe that government knows best, while it hands out perks to the favored and literally bulldozes over those who get in its way.

Also, don’t miss a couple of the choice comments left at the Day’s story.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.


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