Republican candidates found a new use for eminent domain Sunday afternoon as a campaign issue.
U.S. Senate candidate Tom Kean, Congressional candidate Vince Micco, and Bergen County Freeholder candidate Bob Yudin visited Costa Trailer Court and Brown's Trailer Park on Route 46, where residents have been fighting to fend off a redevelopment plan that would take their homes through the power of condemnation.
They met for more than an hour discussing the abuse of eminent domain, touring the Costa trailer park and listening to residents concerned about losing their homes.
"Eminent domain is a good issue for these people," said Kendell Kardt, a resident of Costa Trailer Court and president of Save Our Homes. "It's a lever. They can use it to get on the public's good side. It's an important national issue that they can use to get attention because the Democrats aren't willing to touch this."
Save Our Homes is a group of 150 trailer park residents who have been fighting the borough's attempts to take over the parks using eminent domain and replace them with retail space and a senior housing complex.
Eminent domain is the government's right to seize private property for public use in exchange for payment of fair market value. The issue drew national attention last year when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo vs. the City of New London that local governments can seize private property for private economic development, if it would benefit the public.
Kean, Micco and Yudin shook hands, distributed campaign literature and promised to fight for the trailer park residents once elected.
Kardt, who sported a teal-flowered Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts and green flip flops, smoked a Newport out of a plastic cigarette holder as he debated politics with Micco.
Campaign advisers snapped pictures and trailed a few feet behind the politicians as they walked through Costa Trailer Court, stopping to talk to each resident they spotted along the way.
"People wonder why we have no faith in politicians anymore," said Mildred Samuels, 79, a resident of Costa. "It's because we are constantly fighting them.
"We need somebody to stand up for us," Samuels said, addressing Micco. "We need to get some young stuff, like you, onto the Senate."
Micco responded: "If, God willing, I win, I'm going to be a champion, an advocate for private-property owners. Private property rights are sacred."
Yudin said he planned to lobby state legislators on behalf of the trailer park residents.
Kean, who is currently a state senator and is running against Democrat Robert Menendez for the U.S. Senate, said that pay-to-play and eminent domain abuse go hand in hand.
"Eminent domain abuses are the flip side of pay-to-play abuses," he said. "Both need to be significantly reformed if the government is really going to be held accountable for its actions."
Kean vowed to push pending reform legislation through and to help with new reform legislation to protect residents from eminent domain abuses.
Although Kardt said any attention brought to the issue of eminent domain is a help, he wasn't sure how much of a difference today's meeting would actually make in the long run.
"To be honest, I didn't really hear any ideas," Kardt said, after the politicians and their entourage had left. "What I heard was, 'We're on your side. We think eminent domain being used for economic development is wrong. We're against it.' Which is nice, but I didn't really hear any solutions."
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