Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Mayor Mike: Eminently Unqualified

The furor over the use of eminent domain flared up yesterday as Mayor Mike Bloomberg weighed in strongly in support of public taking. In the mayor's view, "You would never build any big thing any place in any big city in this country if you didn't have the power of eminent domain."

Whew! That's quite an overstatement and places the debate-inappropriately we might add-into an all or nothing situation that mischaracterizes many of our concerns about the use of the tactic. The issue is complex and deserves to be treated to a much more reasoned debate than what the mayor offered yesterday.

When the mayor says that there are some lawmakers who do not "appreciate the crucial importance of eminent domain to our ability to shape our future" we could, with even greater rectitude, say that the mayor doesn't have the slightest sympathy to those who would be displaced. We are dead certain that it would never be the mayor forced out from his ancestral home since property always flows from the less well-off to the more privileged.

In addition, what's up with the Times Square mantra? In trying to justify the importance of ED the mayor points to the revitalization of the area and says, as the NY Sun reports this morning, "Times Square was really the poster child for a seedy, dangerous, unattractive, porno-laced place...Because of eminent domin and some forward-looking people in this city, they turnred it into a place where 24 hours a day you're safe on the street."

Quite simply, this is revisionist history. It was Disney, Guiliani and the changing fortunes of real estate that emerged from the former mayor's administration that turned around the Deuce. It happened organically through market forces.

The key issue here is the use of "blight" to justify the use of ED. Under the current definitions the word has totally lost all of its original meaning. As the Institute for Justice's Dana Berliner says, "New York's blight definition is a joke." Perhaps the only thing that couldn't be included under this elastic rubric is the mayor's 79th Street townhouse.

Clearly, as we have argued before, public policy on this issue needs to be fine-tuned. As the Sun editorializes this morning on the Columbia University ED issue, the ED process as currently constituted is unfair to existing property owners, even though "The university makes some compelling arguments." A better and fairer policy and process needs to be crafted.