Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Greg David Sparks Eminent Domain Debate

In this week's edition of Crain's New York Business there was a spirited reaction to Greg David's opposition to eminent domain for anything but a clear "public use." Typically the NYC Partnership, the voice of New York's business community, came out strongly for the use of ED as an "important tool" for urban revitalization.

Kathy Wylde, the Partnership's CEO, made the case that if not for ED a city like New York would not have been able to eliminate the blight that had set in following the disorders of the 1970s: "Over many years, the power of condemnation has provided a means to eliminate blighting and assemble sites for development of affordable housing, job-generating commercial activity and other community development projects."

Kathy certainly has a point although anyone who has even skimmed the Power Broker or Jack Newfield's City for Sale understands that the history of public taking is not all wine and roses. And in a city that has as its power elite the scions of the real estate community (most of whom are represented by the Partnership itself) there is always the danger that the taking in question will be a smokescreen for the kind of sweatheart deal that we have been criticizing at the BTM.

The eminent domain argument, despite the absolutist position taken by Norman Siegel in his response to David, is nuanced and therefore legislation needs to be crafted with considerable care. We did get a chuckle, though, from one of Siegel’s sentences, "The taking of private property by the government and effectively transferring it to another private owner is antithetical to the principles and values of America."

The mirth, of course, did not devolve from the sentence's content but rather from the incongruence that it came from Mr. Siegel. It is not everyday that you can find Siegel, George Will and Justice Scalia all on the same legal page. This is what makes the whole ED debate so compelling.