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Eminent domain battle still worth the fight

The Virginian-Pilot
June 23, 2006
By Susette Kelo

One year ago today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that my home could be taken by the government and handed over to another private party for their private use. The only requirements are that the city must have some plan in place that says another owner could create more jobs and pay more taxes than I do.

There went my property rights, and yours too.

Hardly a day goes by as I work in my garden or have a cup of coffee in my kitchen, both of which overlook the Thames River and the Long Island Sound, that I don’t ask myself this question: “If I had to do it all over again, would I?”

Even on my worst days, my answer is always the same: absolutely yes.

In February 1998, I first heard that Pfizer was coming to town. I remember thinking that this was going to be trouble for us in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood that is located right next door.

I immediately phoned then-Mayor Lloyd Beachy, who shared my concern and would take the side of homeowners. He suggested I call a local activist to see what I could do to defend my home.

Since that day, Lloyd and thousands of others have become my sounding boards, my comrades in arms and my best friends. More than 500 came to New London from as far away as Kentucky and Texas for a rally last July 5 to protest the notorious Supreme Court decision that carries my name. Without their help and support and that of the Institute for Justice, my fight would have been over years ago.

I am still in my home and still battling to keep it. This is my home, and no one has the right to take it from me, especially for the vague concept of “economic development.”

Mark Twain once wrote, “Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.” My illusion has been, and will continue to be, that my home is mine.

Had the city of New London needed our homes for a school or a fire station, we would have understood that it was truly a “public use” and we would have complied. But there is no public use here. Building a hotel or upscale condominiums so someone else can live there is not a public use or even a public purpose.

The sad truth is that there are no specific plans for the land where our homes stand.

What do I think should happen now? What I thought should happen eight years ago. I and the Cristofaro family should be allowed to keep our homes and live our lives in peace. We should be able to pass these homes on to our children and grandchildren.

This is America, isn’t it? Doesn’t that simple desire define the safety and security of the American dream? That is the dream Justices Kennedy, Stevens, Souter, Ginsberg and Breyer gave away.

In September 2005, when we again received eviction notices, Connecticut Gov. Jodi Rell intervened on our behalf, asking the New London Development Corp. to rescind those notices and declare a moratorium on eminent domain until the legislature had time to consider a bill that would protect property owners in Connecticut. An informal moratorium is in place to protect those whose homes were condemned after mine, but it was not retroactive. The legislature failed to act, and now

Connecticut property owners are right back in the same boat I find myself in.

This has been a stressful eight years. More often than not, I wake up exhausted, discouraged and wonder if this is all worth it. But even though I’ve lost my rights, and I’ve lost my property, I cannot quit.

The threat of eminent domain continues even though the governor has asked that our homes be incorporated into the redevelopment project. The City Council rejected that suggestion and chose instead to evict us.