By Steven Slosberg
Eminent domain, political quicksand that it is, has been a gold mine of partisan opportunism, nevertheless.
Last week, state Democrats jumped all over apparent doubletalk on the subject from Congressman Rob Simmons, the district's three-term Republican.
The ammunition for the Democrats was a Simmons' quote from the “Osgood File,” a program aired, at various times during the day, on WCBS 880 AM radio on June 24. That was one day after the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its convulsive 5-4 decision in favor of the City of New London in the lawsuit brought against the city and New London Development Corp. by Susette Kelo and other property owners at Fort Trumbull.
Charles Osgood, doing the reporting and commentating, questioned Scott Sawyer, one of the local lawyers representing the homeowners, and Simmons about what Osgood called a “close but groundbreaking decision for developers” and “a heartbreaking one of the owners of 15 homes in New London.”
The transcript of the show, provided online by CBS, includes this:
Osgood: “Congressman Rob Simmons of Connecticut says it's for the greater good.”
Simmons: “It's gonna be painful for a half-dozen to a dozen people, but we stand to create jobs in that area, literally hundreds of jobs. I think our cities in Connecticut are gonna die if we can't engage in some urban development to generate economic benefits for the citizens of the community.”
The state Democrats, through Leslie O'Brien, executive director of the party organization, then descended on a quote from Simmons' chief of staff, Todd Mitchell, in a story published a week later, on July 2, in The Day:
“Congressman Simmons opposes the use of eminent domain strictly for economic development purposes. Instead, eminent domain should be used in only the most unique circumstances and be limited to a larger public interest.”
Mitchell also said Simmons was confident a national Coast Guard museum still would be developed at Fort Trumbull.
The federal legislation behind establishment of the museum stipulates that no federal funds be expended on planning, construction or maintenance of the museum. A private foundation has been set up to raise money.
However, the location of such a museum, be it in New London or New York or elsewhere, has yet to be determined. A federal law enacted in 2003 merely gives the Coast Guard commandant the authority to establish a museum at or near the Coast Guard Academy. There is no directive to build it in New London.
Responding to the Democrats' accusing Simmons of flip-flopping on eminent domain, Mitchell said: “Rob has never said we have to throw those people out of their homes because it's for the greater good.”
The chief of staff also argued that Simmons' concern for those affected by eminent domain was evidenced in the drafting of that 2003 legislation for establishment of the museum in New London. Simmons introduced the original bill for the museum here, but other members of Congress pushed for the oversight language prohibiting the use of land taken by eminent domain for the museum.
“Simmons made sure the bill addressed the issue of eminent domain,” said Mitchell. “The concerns came from the minority party. Simmons could have easily pushed the original bill through without directly addressing eminent domain. Instead, he worked in a bipartisan manner to craft language agreeable to Democrats' concerns.”
The nuancing does get a bit precious. However eminent domain plays out, ultimately, in New London, it has landed at least one politician, as well as the still-unspecified site of a Coast Guard museum, on a rather slippery slope.
The Day: www.theday.com