Interest Widespread In Trumbull Fight: Mulberry Street Coalition, 2/21/05

Litigants Hold Rally Before Trip To U.S. Supreme Court

Suzette Kelo took calls Sunday morning from California and New York, from Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.

“I get phone calls from everywhere in the country,” she said.

The strangers who contacted her, she said, have wished her and fellow Fort Trumbull property holdouts success when they go to the U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday. That's when they expect to present their final arguments to keep the properties that the New London Development Corp. claims through eminent domain.

Kelo was among about 60 people who gathered for an hour Sunday afternoon in the city's downtown Parade to show support for her and the six other property owners who leave today for Washington, D.C.

“Why should the government take people's lands?” said Russell Kanning, who came from Keene, N.H., along with at least four others from the Granite State. Though Kanning said he does not fear the use of eminent domain in New Hampshire - that state's Supreme Court explicitly prohibited the use of eminent domain for private development in a 1980 ruling - he came to support the Fort Trumbull residents he first learned of about a year ago through media reports.

“I don't believe in eminent domain at all,” he said. “It's especially bad in this case, because you're taking property from one person and giving it to another.”
Under the NLDC plan, about 90 acres of land taken through eminent domain will be privately redeveloped with the promise of higher tax yields for the city.

The case before the Supreme Court will define the property rights of every American, not just those named in the suit, said George Mytrowitz, of Newark, N.J.
“We're hoping the Kelo case sets precedent around the country to show local governments they can't just wipe people out of their property for better taxes,” Mytrowitz said.

Mytrowitz and several neighbors who also attended the rally are at the heart of their own eminent domain fight. Newark's City Council has declared their neighborhood a blighted area, paving the way for a plan to build condominiums and retail space where homes and businesses now stand on Mulberry Street.

The owner of an auto body shop on the street, Mytrowitz formed the Mulberry Street Coalition with other property owners to fight the city's plan.

“We need the country to open its eyes. People don't realize what's happening until it hits home,” Mytrowitz said, calling eminent domain “an injury to the American people.”

The Coalition to Save the Fort Trumbull Neighborhood, which organized Sunday's rally and includes many city residents whose property is not at stake, has been in court since 2000. Although their attempts to derail the NLDC's plan have failed, they say they are still hopeful.

“Here we are, five years later, going to the Supreme Court. How great a nation is that?” said Michael Cristofaro, who leaves for Washington with family this morning. His father, Pasquale Cristofaro, owns 53 Goshen St., a Fort Trumbull property among those the city wants.

“They cannot push us out of our properties,” Cristofaro said. “Our properties are ours.”

Coalition co-chairman Fred Paxton said he, too, is hopeful. “The very fact that they've taken the case means they consider this something that needs a current statement from the court.”

Kelo, who largely stood on the sidelines Sunday as property owners, organizers and others took turns at the megaphone, said after the rally that she is optimistic.
“We just think positively that the justices will do the right thing,” she said. She said she never thought the case would make it to the high court and credited city residents for their perseverance and faith. She also thanked the legal representation of the Institute for Justice, in Washington, D.C., and a support network stretching across the country.

In conjunction with the court case, the Castle Coalition, a national organization against the use of eminent domain for private development, organized rallies in 27 cities in 15 states from Sunday through Tuesday.

In New London, another rally is scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday in front of New London Superior Court.

Mulberry Sreet Coalition: info@mulberrystcoalition.com