November 10, 2009

Pfizer Leaving New London, CT; Just Don’t Mention ‘Kelo’ While Reporting It

SusetteKeloIt’s a development that I wouldn’t wish on anybody, but one that the City of New London, Connecticut largely brought upon itself by pursuing and winning the Kelo v. New London case at the Supreme Court in June 2005.

Some “win.” In what Ed Morrissey at Hot Air calls “a fitting coda to a chapter of governmental abuse,” pharmaceutical manufacturer Pfizer is leaving the global research and development headquarters it built in New London just eight years ago.

The significance of the move should resonate nationally, because, as the Washington Examiner explains, Pfizer’s original decision to locate in New London was driven by the City’s promises to eliminate a nearby neighborhood — promises which led to the Kelo litigation once residents, including Susette Kelo (pictured above), pushed back:

To lure those jobs to New London a decade ago, the local government promised to demolish the older residential neighborhood adjacent to the land Pfizer was buying for next-to-nothing. Suzette Kelo fought the taking to the Supreme Court, and lost. Five justices found this redevelopment met the constitutional hurdle of “public use.”

The New London Day elaborates, while petulantly managing to avoid any mention of what has clearly become the local four-letter word — “Kelo” (bold is mine):

The Pfizer Research and Development complex in New London will be closed by the pharmaceutical giant and its jobs consolidated in Groton. Sale or lease of the property, which encompasses more than three-quarters of a million square feet, could be a lengthy process. Though it comes as a blow to New London, the closure will not result in any major loss of jobs as a result of the Groton consolidation.

Pfizer earlier this year said nearly 20,000 jobs would be cut as a result of its merger with the New Jersey-based Wyeth. The company said Monday that about 15 percent of its overall R&D work force would be cut as part of that downsizing.

The announced closing of the New London site came as a blow to a city that had counted on Pfizer to help revive its fortunes. Instead, Pfizer’s name became attached to a dispute over eminent domain that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that New London won on legal grounds even as it lost in the court of public opinion.

The loss of Pfizer as a keystone business in New London could put in further jeopardy the Fort Trumbull development that started in conjunction with Pfizer’s move into the city but has left little but flattened buildings and eminent-domain angst in its wake.

Michael Joplin, president of the New London Development Corp., said Pfizer’s withdrawal from the city will likely be a setback for a proposed hotel at Fort Trumbull. While the hotel would have attracted the general public as well as those visiting the proposed U.S. Coast Guard Museum at Fort Trumbull, Joplin said Pfizer had planned to make use of it as well.

“What we’ve lost here is an occupied property,” Joplin said. “But it would have been worse yet if Pfizer had picked up its whole operation.”

“All in all, I think we’re lucky,” said Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. “The facility in New London was built with the best of intentions. If the industry can’t support facilities in (both) New London and Groton … hard decisions have to be made.”

The Day’s insistence on avoiding any mention of the word “Kelo” is a deplorable tradition that began almost immediately after final holdouts Susette Kelo and the Cristofaros settled with the City in mid-2006. The paper’s persistence looks especially petty and childish today.

The reality-denying statements of Joplin and Sheridan above are self-evident embarrassments.

The Hartford Courant, which appears to have been the first to report the story yesterday at 12:55 p.m., also didn’t mention “the dirty word.”

The strain to avoid saying “Kelo” borders on the hysterical in the three-minute Fox 61 video embedded at the Courant link. Reporter Laurie Perez first made this reference to the case (blown chances to mention Kelo are in bold):

(0:25) “It wasn’t that long ago that New London was wooing Pfizer to Fort Trumbull, and in a bitter and infamous eminent-domain battle, taking away private homes to make way for a business and technology park. Tonight, along with taking a look and the business and economic impact of Pfizer leaving there is as you might imagine, strong reaction from residents, wondering what exactly they lost their homes for.

After this build-up, Perez interviewed only one “resident,” Mike Cristofaro, who is of course now a former Fort Trumbull resident:

(2:10) Perez: Former Fort Trumull homeowner Michael Cristofaro bears no ill will towards the drug company, but he says the eminent domain battle with the city and developers combined with today’s news, is a bitter pill to swallow.

Cristofaro: There’s nothing here. It’s clear-cut. It’s a dust bowl. I mean, that’s what’s sad. That was a 10-year battle, and here it is, 12 years later, and we could still be here. And we would still be paying the taxes on it. What does the City have now? They have nothing.

The local press’s consistent refusal to utter Susette Kelo’s last name is journalistic malpractice.

As to the press outside of the Nutmeg State, as I have noted in several previous NewsBusters and BizzyBlog posts, the national media have been proactively disinterested in developments — or, more correctly stated, non-developments — in the Fort Trumbull area.

After the ruling itself, the establishment media largely ignored the bitter struggle that ensued:

  • Almost no one knows that a new party, One New London, whose express purpose was to prevent the New London Development Corporation from carrying out its Supreme Court-sanctioned actions, came out of nowhere and won two seats on the seven-seat City Council, losing out on a third seat by 19 votes.
  • Almost no one knows that City Council, with the One New London Party members strongly dissenting, voted in May 2006, formalized in June, to evict the remaining holdouts, while demanding “past-due real estate taxes, claims for use and occupancy and claims to collect rent from third parties” to the tune of (I’m not kidding) $946,000 and change.
  • Almost no one knows that infuriated city residents mounted what from all appearances was a successful petition drive to put the question of the city property takeover of the Kelo and Cristofaro properties on the ballot in just three weeks. Absent the petition and looming referendum overhang, it seems likely that City Council would have brought on the bulldozers. Instead, it began negotiations with Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell. Rell ultimately brokered a deal that, while constitutionally unacceptable, was probably the best anyone could have hoped for in the situation.

Going further back to the sordid history of the case itself, almost no one knows that the high-powered, politically-connected Italian Dramatic Club was allowed to remain in Fort Trumbull, while each and every home around it was leveled:

A notable exception to the NLDC’s plan to clear-cut the neighborhood is the Italian Dramatic Club, a politically connected “social club” of Connecticut’s political establishment, which is located in the very same neighborhood as all the homes targeted for destruction. Among the Italian Dramatic Club’s patrons was former Connecticut Gov. John Rowland, who helped direct much of the State funding for the NLDC’s work in New London and who resigned in June 2004 amid an ethics scandal. The club was informed in September 2000 that it could remain in the neighborhood. The un-elected NLDC decision to preserve the politically powerful Italian Dramatic Club while demanding that New Londoners move out led Fort Trumbull homeowner Matt Dery to quip that the NLDC’s actions in his neighborhood have been both shameful and shameless.

As far as I can tell, establishment media coverage of Pfizer’s latest move and its real-world relevance to the Kelo ruling has thus far been non-existent. A Google News search on “Pfizer Kelo” (not in quotes) at 11:00 a.m. came back with a dozen items, none from major establishment media outlets. A search on “Pfizer eminent domain” (again not in quotes) came back with 13, adding only the Hartford Courant report noted above. The Associated Press’s coverage of the Pfizer-Wyeth facilities consolidations only says that “Groton, Conn. …. will add 1,500 workers from a nearby New London facility being closed.”

The idea that news consumers outside of Connecticut don’t have an interest in learning what has really happened at the site involved in the Supreme Court’s odious Kelo ruling is patently absurd. Perhaps this four-year near blackout has occurred because our journalistic gatekeepers would prefer that we not see a concrete demonstration of what can happen when a government gives in to its authoritarian impulses, and the courts fail in their duty to rein it in.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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2 Comments

  1. Hope the New London City Council and the Supreme Court is happy with the results of their decisions.

    Payback is a real beeyotch!!

    Comment by dick — November 10, 2009 @ 4:48 pm

  2. So right you are…the people we elect in every race equals who the choices are and is confirmed for the Supreme Court.

    Unfortunately…many people do not pay one lick of attention to how our gov. is suppose to work.

    Comment by Zitmeds — November 12, 2009 @ 2:21 am

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