Eminent Hypocrisy


In a June 26 editorial entitled 'Responsible Use of Eminent Domain,' the New York Times displays what can only be described as the ultimate in hypocritical chutzpah as it attempts to justify its own nefarious land—grab made under the guise of the principle of eminent domain.

A Supreme Court decision last year on eminent domain caused many people to overreact, most of all Congress. The House of Representatives passed a troubling bill that would severely limit local governments' ability to clean up blighted areas and promote responsible development. The Senate, which has yet to act, should take a more moderate approach.

In last year's decision, the high court upheld the use of eminent domain by New London, Conn., to assemble property for a private development project that promised to prop up the city's tax base and bring in badly needed jobs. The ruling set off talk of "eminent domain abuse." What has been lost in the discussion is the good that eminent domain can do. It has long been a key tool by which cities can upgrade deteriorating neighborhoods and assemble land for affordable housing.

(The New York Times benefited from eminent domain in clearing the land for the new building it is constructing opposite the Port Authority Bus Terminal.)

The Times, naturally, fails to note that the Constitutional basis for government taking under 'eminent domain' is the specific wording of the Fifth Amendment: '...nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.' The significant words here are 'public use' — which might apply to a highway, school, airport, park, or other facility that is genuinely for general public use — not merely the replacement of one private use for another which will raise the tax base or advantage private interests.

This, of course, is exactly what the Times, in connivance with city government and a powerful real estate developer, did. An entire block of city businesses, operating and thriving, were taken over against their owners' consent simply to make land available for the construction of extravagant (and completely unneeded) new headquarters for The New York Times. Hardly public use by any stretch of anyone's imagination. To make matters worse, the fiction that building Pinch's Palace was of some vital public necessity was also used to create special tax breaks at public expense for the paper and the developers.

Little surprise that Sulzberger's editorial page minions see fit to pretzel—twist a slew of objections to Congressional attempts to limit the open—ended opportunity for abuse created by the unfortunate and widely decried Kelo decision — the Times is a major abuser itself and would like to see the sort of special privilege it has bountifully enjoyed continued without attack or limit. It's not an organization that has ever favored the rights and interests of private citizens and businesses — except its own — over government meddling and interference, and today's editorial hypocrisy provides no exception.

Richard N. Weltz     06 26 06

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