Mayor Takes On The Fight Over Eminent Domain: NY1.com (New York NY), 3/8/06

By Sandra Endo

Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg is racking up some frequent flyer miles in the battle over taking people's property for private development projects he says would be for the public good.

Bloomberg says sometimes it has to happen, otherwise, “Every big city would have all construction come to a screeching halt.”

The mayor's been to the nation's capital twice in as many weeks, meeting privately with lawmakers to make the case local governments shouldn't lose the right to determine when eminent domain is legitimate in the interest of the public.

Bloomberg is backing the controversial Brooklyn arena project which could potentially displace many homeowners.

“In the real world you can't say, ‘Well, it's just school or just hospitals.’ The economics are what pays for those schools,” said the mayor.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June supported giving broad leeway to governments to seize private property. It caused a backlash among many conservatives, and Congress is now considering measures opposing the ruling.

Eminent domain lawyer Michael Rikon has represented hundreds of clients under threat of getting their property possessed, and says the interpretation of who private development projects benefit is sometimes clouded.

“The basic bottom line is that some individual is going to make a lot of money and not necessarily improve the city,” said Rikon.

The debate is heated, since there are many shades of gray as to what defines a project that would benefit the public enough to require taking private property, which are people homes and businesses.

“It’s not necessarily the case that the fact that a private interests developing property means that there is no public value. The question is adequate compensation and adequate process for the people who are dispossessed,” said David Birdsell of Baruch College. “And those are very, very difficult questions to try to guarantee in a very fraught environment.”

It's an issue making distinctions in the upcoming race for governor, and which will continue to spark loud debate.

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