This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, August 28, 2015:
It’s likely that neither Suzette Kelo nor Vera Coking ever met Donald Trump, but they certainly know how he operates. Eminent domain, under the Fifth Amendment, says that “no person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” Suzette lost her property, and Vera nearly did, by developers seizing on that malleable and flexible language and turning it into a tool of thuggery, using government agents instead of bandits, to forcibly remove owners from their privately owned homes and land.
A developer in New London, Connecticut, used a government-created entity to declare that Kelo’s property was condemned in favor of a “comprehensive redevelopment plan” that would generate more revenues than the taxes she and her neighbors were paying. Kelo, who had been living in her little pink house for years, refused to leave. Lawsuits were filed and, lurching up the legal food chain, her case finally found itself in front of the Supreme Court in 2005.
In a 5-4 decision that rocked the world, the Supremes held that:
The governmental taking of property from one private owner to give to another in furtherance of economic development constitutes a permissible “public use” under the Fifth Amendment.
The outrage of that decision reverberates even today, with most states enacting their own laws prohibiting such excesses.
But that didn’t help Vera Coking. She and her husband bought a three-story boarding house in Atlantic City not far from the beach in 1961. In the early 1970s the publisher of Penthouse magazine decided to become a real estate magnate and prepared to build the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino near their property. He offered them $1 million for property that cost them $20,000, and they turned him down. So publisher Bob Guccione decided to build around their home instead.
When he ran out of money the project remained incomplete until Donald Trump came along in 1993. He replaced the project with his Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino and decided that he needed room to park all those limousines that would be dropping off wealthy patrons ready to indulge themselves at his hotel. Coking’s home would be perfect to park those limousines and so he offered Vera, now a widow, $1 million for her home.
Again, she turned down the offer.
Only this time the developer didn’t just walk away. Instead Trump enlisted the help of New Jersey’s Reinvestment Development Authority which condemned her place, offered her $251,000 for it, and told her she had 90 days to get out or they would forcibly remove her.
Enter the Institute for Justice which took on the case for the widow, pro bono. IJ explained how the scam was supposed to work:
Unlike most developers, Donald Trump doesn’t have to negotiate with a private owner when he wants to buy a piece of property, because a governmental agency – the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority or CRDA – will get it for him at a fraction of the market value, even if the current owner refuses to sell….
After a developer identifies the parcels of land he wants to acquire and a city planning board approves a casino project, CRDA attempts to confiscate these properties using a process called “eminent domain,” which allows the government to condemn properties “for public use.”
Increasingly, though, CRDA and other government entities exercise the power of eminent domain to take property from one private person and give it to another. At the same time, governments give less and less consideration to the necessity of taking property and also ignore the personal loss to the individuals being evicted.
After four years of fighting in courts, a state judge ruled in favor of Coking, holding that there was no guarantee that Trump would in fact use her property for the intended purpose.
John Stossel interviewed Trump over the matter:
Stossel: In the old days, big developers came in with thugs with clubs. Now you use lawyers. You go to court and you force people out.
Trump: Excuse me? Other people may use thugs today. I don’t. I’ve done this very nicely. If I wanted to use thugs, we wouldn’t have any problems. It would have been all taken care of many years ago.
I don’t do business that way. We have been so nice to this woman.
Stossel: Let [her] stay. Basic to freedom is that if you own something, it’s yours. The government doesn’t just come and take it away.
Trump: Do you want to live in a city where you can’t build roads or highways or have access to hospitals? Condemnation is a necessary evil.
Stossel: But we’re not talking about a hospital. This is a building a rich guy finds ugly.
Trump: You’re talking about at the tip of this city lies a little group of terrible, terrible tenements – just terrible stuff, tenement housing.
Stossel: So what?
Trump: So what? Atlantic City does a lot less business, and senior citizens get a lot less money and a lot less taxes and a lot less this and that.
That’s Trump’s mindset. As he has repeatedly said, which his doting supporters are lapping up, he will do whatever it takes to get the job done, without boring them with the details or principles violated in the process.
Michelle Malkin put the matter well:
Too many mega-developers like Trump have achieved success by using and abusing the government’s ability to commandeer private property for purported “public use.” Invoking the Fifth Amendment takings clause, real estate moguls, parking garage builders, mall developers, and sports palace architects have colluded with elected officials to pull off legalized theft in the name of reducing “blight.”
Under eminent domain, the definition of “public purpose” has been stretched like Silly Putty to cover everything from roads and bridges to high-end retail stores, baseball stadiums, and casinos.
A supreme irony, in these two instances at least, is the fact that neither Kelo’s nor Coking’s properties were ever developed but remain blights on the landscape. Kelo’s is a public waste site while Coking’s boarding house was demolished in 2014 and the lot remains vacant to this day, thanks to the closing of Trump’s hotel and casino. The Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino closed on September 16, 2014 due to lack of business … and limousines.
PS: In the event skeptics remain about Trump’s intentions, the YouTube video linked below, which runs less than three minutes, should remove all doubt.
A graduate of an Ivy League school and a former investment advisor, Bob is a regular contributor to The New American magazine and blogs frequently atwww.LightFromTheRight.com, primarily on economics and politics. He can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
NationalReview.com: Donald Trump and Eminent Domain
MichelleMalkin.com: Donald Trump’s eminent-domain empire
RedState.com: Donald Trump and Eminent Domain
Cato.org: Donald Trump’s Eminent Domain Love Nearly Cost a Widow Her House
JeffJacoby.com: Donald Trump, eminent-domain abuser
YouTube interview of Donald Trump vs. John Stossel on eminent domain 2:43 long
Another Stossel interview with Trump