Carl Spitzer cwsiv at juno.com
Thu May 10 12:05:06 MDT 2018

Donald Trump really did try to take an elderly widow's house for a
limousine parking lot

By Timothy B. Leetim at vox.com 
Feb 7, 2016
Donald Trump really did try to take an elderly widow's house for a
limousine parking lot tweet share Reddit Pocket Flipboard Email 

One of the testiest exchanges in last night's Republican presidential
debate came when Jeb Bush accused Donald Trump of trying to take the
home of an elderly woman to make room for a limousine parking lot in
Atlantic City.

Trump denied that he'd taken the property, but he defended the use of
the legal power known as eminent domain to take property. "Eminent
domain is an absolute necessity for a country," he said. "Without it,
you wouldn't have roads, you wouldn't have hospitals, you wouldn't have

Bush is right about this. Trump really did try to take an elderly
woman's home in the 1990s to make more room to park limousines next door
to his casino in Atlantic City — though the woman ultimately won in
court. And while it's sometimes necessary for government to take private
property for a road or post office, the abuse of eminent domain for
purely private purposes was — and still is — a serious problem.

When the government uses eminent domain to take property, the US
Constitution requires that it be for "public use." Traditionally, this
was interpreted to mean a government-run facility, or at least a
regulated public utility like a railroad. However, since the 1950s, the
courts have allowed takings if they serve a "public purpose" — and they
have given local governments a lot of discretion to decide what
constitutes a public purpose.

As a result, it has become routine for cities to take private property
from one private party and give it to another. This often leads to local
government taking the homes of working-class people to make room for
big-box stores, corporate headquarters, or luxury condos.

Trump's battle with Atlantic City resident Vera Coking in the 1990s is
the ultimate example of this kind of Robin-Hood-in-reverse development
scheme. Coking had lived in her home since the 1960s, and had turned
down another developer's $1 million offer for her house in the 1980s.

In the mid-1990s, Trump tried to persuade her to sell her home to make
room for a parking lot for the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, which was
located next door. When she refused, Trump got Atlantic City's Casino
Reinvestment Development Authority to threaten to take the property
using eminent domain. If she'd accepted the offer, she would have gotten
$250,000 — a quarter of the price she was offered a decade earlier.

Instead, she turned to a libertarian law firm called the Institute for
Justice, which fought the city in court. Ultimately, the courts sided
with Coking, ruling that the vagueness of the city's plans made it
impossible for the courts to determine if the taking would serve a
public purpose.

But not everyone in Coking's situation has been so lucky. A few years
after Coking's victory, the city of New London, Connecticut, sought to
demolish a working-class neighborhood to make room for a new Pfizer
research facility. One of the property owners, Susette Kelo, fought the
taking all the way to the Supreme Court, where a 5-4 majority ruled for
the city in 2005.

Beyond the basic unfairness of taking ordinary peoples' homes for the
benefit of the rich and powerful, there are a couple of specific
problems with the use of eminent domain for private use. While the law
requires property owners to get "just compensation," cities are often
able to pay property owners much less than the actual market value for
their properties. Many property owners simply can't afford to challenge
compensation amounts in court.

Second, while developers like Donald Trump benefit greatly from the use
of eminent domain for private projects, the benefits to the general
public are less clear. In New London, for example, Pfizer decided to
leave the city in 2009, just four years after the Supreme Court's
ruling. The ultimate result: A working-class residential neighborhood
was transformed into an empty field, reducing New London's already
meager tax base.

Donald Trump is right that eminent domain is often necessary for public
projects like parks, bridges, or schools. But for purely private
projects, it would be better to require wealthy developers to purchase
land at market rates.


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