Masters Of Somebody Else’s Domain

After reading the comments in my earlier post about the confluence between a recent property seizure in Oakland and Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi’s wild defense of eminent domain in the Kelo decision, I did a bit more digging into the lead developer on the Oakland project, Forest City Enterprises, Inc.

Forest City is a publicly-traded development and real estate conglomerate run by the Ratner family of Cleveland, Ohio. Led by the Ratners, Forest City is a player in major developments on both coasts (and many places in between), including some of the hottest hot spots in eminent domain seizures.

The biggest, or at least the most publicized, involves a huge tract of Brooklyn in New York City. The Ratners are proposing to turn it into a condo-shopping-basketball-arena complex; Bruce Ratner of Forest Park is the owner of the New Jersey Nets. The Ratners are lobbying the city and state of New York to exercise eminent domain powers to seize properties in Brooklyn for this project.

(Incidentally, Bruce Ratner’s brother Michael runs the far-left humanrightsnow.org website, and is president of the George Soros-funded “Center for Constitutional Rights,” and is one of the major legal players trying to free the terrorist prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Quite a family there.)

In addition to the Uptown Project in Oakland, Forest City is a prime contractor in a gigantic shopping mall project in San Francisco which involves eminent domain seizures of private property. The company is also partnered with the New York Times to build the Times’ new headquarters in Manhattan–on a site that was seized especially for the Times by New York City. Small surprise then that the Times is (thus far) second only to Nancy Pelosi in cheerleading for the Kelo decision.

Speaking of Pelosi, as the Democrats’ leader in the House, San Fran Nan has been the beneficiary of a great deal of campaign largesse from the Ratners. Based on numbers from OpenSecrets.org, people named Ratner who were employed by Forest City companies donated at least $18,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee during the 2002 and 2004 cycles (I also include one individual named Ratner identifed as a “homemaker” who had the same address as another Ratner/Forest City contributor).

The Ratners are also major contributors to other heavyweight Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer, Chris Dodd, Nita Lowey, Tom Daschle, Joe Lieberman, John Kerrey, as well as disctinctly non-Democratic names like George W. Bush and Rick Santorum. Nothing unusual there; many corporate donors hedge their bets by giving to both parties.

Even so, the large amounts given to the DCCC (18 donations of $1000 per donor, vs. no Ratner/Forest City donations that I can find to the NRCC), many of which were given in late October of election years, suggest that the Ratners are keen to get the attention of congressional Democrats–and particularly their leader–at electoral crunch time.

Gee, I wonder why?

Perhaps more importantly, why did I have to look all this stuff up myself? Shouldn’t some MSM reporter have written about it already? It’s not like it was hard to find.

Jay Rosen, if you’re listening, if you changed the acronym DCCC to NRCC, and “Forest City” to “Halliburton,” if Tom Delay had compared Kelo to ‘the word of God,’ if the family running Halliburton was also involved in legal defense for terrorists, and if the decision had also been heartily endorsed by Fox News, d’ya think I might have read about that in the Washington Post by now?

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32 Responses to “Masters Of Somebody Else’s Domain”

  1. TF6S Says:

    Geeze, nice detective work. It’ll take me a while to sort this out, but if this shakes out, you have one hell of a story.

  2. Rod Stanton Says:

    You’re talking about extreme progressives here. The MSM always gives them a pass. Pelosi took five (5) times as much money for trips as Delay did but which one was a lead item in the MSM 3 days a week from Feb to May? Only if you read blogs or listen to Talk Radio (I do both) would hou know this. The MSM acts like Delay is the only House leader doing this, when in fact his financed trips are far from the top.
    Cover a connection between Nancy and rich supporters and maybe selling them favors? You have had too much Vodka. Switch to tea.

  3. denise Says:

    It appears that with respect to the San Francisco mall project, if eminent domain was used (which isn’t entirely clear, but I think it’s implied), it was predicated on a finding of blight (which given that the old store had been boarded up for about 10 years doesn’t seem unreasonable on its face).

    Therefore, the Kelo decision really doesn’t directly apply. It has long been understood that removing blight is a public purpose, but Kelo went a step further, saying that a blight finding isn’t required.

    My question for Will is does this matter to you? Do you have a problem with using eminent domain to purchase property that will be turned over for private development where there is a proper determination of blight?

  4. William Says:

    This is pretty good, but I think there’s one thing missing. Whereas the halliburton, coal, & various other shady big-business deals were made by elected officials (who received money), all the Ratners have gotten out of all of this is an endorsement, by a minority leader no less.

    There’s no proof they actually influenced a justice.

    This apparent bribery isn’t a good thing, but on the scale of political scum, it isn’t a big deal.

  5. Scott in CA Says:

    I agree with Denise. The SF project is a Bloomingdales, which is being built partly within the old shell of an 1898 department store that went out of business more than 10 years ago. They are saving the facade and the rotunda. I don’t remember anything else there being taken for the project.

  6. Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) Says:

    Denise; Scott:

    I am an eminent domain lawyer who has been trying condemnation and doing battle with redevelopment agencies for twenty years. You are correct that the old Emporium/new Bloomingdales project did not require eminent domain. The article is indeed vague. The City moved to expand the redevelopment district boundaries to allow the redevelopment agency to subsidize the developers to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. This is the scam with redevelopment agencies (not at issue in Kelo) about which the public should really be enraged, but it simply doesn’t get reported. These redevelopment agencies are largely impenetrable to public scrutiny. But the multi-million dollar subsidies explain why these developers line the pockets of the politicians with a few thousand dollars.

  7. Will Collier Says:

    Fred’s right about the San Francisco site. The article references eminent domain being used, but not specifically for the old department store. I would surmise that we’re talking about different properties in the same area (I imagine a long-vacant store would simply be for sale), but I haven’t been able to find that out precisely.

    In any event, what I have a problem with is not so much a taking of a genuinely derelict property, but rather the cases in Oakland and NYC and New London where you have either homeowners who don’t want to move or businesses that are solvent and in operation– but just don’t generate as much tax money as what’s proposed for the same site.

    I have a serious problem with that, especially in these cases where the property is not being taken for public use (i.e. a road or other general access use), but just to give to another private outfit to generate more tax money. That’s outright theft, and as I said earlier, a license for corruption.

  8. Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) Says:

    Will:

    Permit me to add to your well-taken points. The truth is that the big players are never (with rare exceptions) targeted with this private-to-private scheme. Either they’re too politically powerful, or their property (e.g. the Emporium site in SF) is too valuable. Its the little guy — the Vietnamese immigrant who has put sweat equity into his laundry or the mom-and-pop who run a blue-collar restaurant — who get hit.

    And don’t let anyone kid you about just compensation being fair. An example. I represented two brothers in Daly City (just south of SF) who ran a small furniture store that their father had started forty years earlier in the same location. They weren’t rich, but the store comfortably supported them and their families. Plus running a furniture store was what they knew how to do. On their same block were other businesses (restaurant, lumber store) that had likewise been there for decades, and supported the owners quite nicely. Daly City condemned the entire block to then deed to a developer (with subsidies, naturally) to build a multi-plex theater. How do you compensate those owners for the loss of their livelihood? My clients were in their mid-forties, and couldn’t find jobs.

  9. Pejmanesque Says:

    MORE ON PELOSI AND KELO

    Did you stop to wonder why it was that Nancy Pelosi equated the Kelo decision with God giving the Commandments on Sinai? Maybe you just thought it was a random silly utterance and didn’t give it a second thought after…

  10. Robert Says:

    Great investigative reporting, Will. You should write for Blogger News Network and see some scratch from your digging!

  11. Lone Dissenter Says:

    Just more evidence of why Kelo is such an awful decision

    Seizing private property for private development isn’t rare. The cliche is “follow the money.” It’s quite clear that the real beneficiaries of Kelo aren’t municipalities but land developers. Some states have protectios against this racket, others don’t…

  12. Question Mark Says:

    A little digging would also find links between people benefitting hugely from emimnent domain and a certain Justice G.’s family as well. Don’t just follow the money – follow the clerks …

  13. Gerry Says:

    Awesome work.

  14. The Kudzu Chronicle Says:

    Eminent Domain – A Recipe for Corruption

    This is fantastic example of Weblog Sleuthing and another example that the Main Stream Media do not hold a monopoly…

  15. PoliPundit.com Says:

    Just Insert “Pelosi” In Place Of “Delay”

    What Vodka Pundit says about the way the MSM is covering (or rather, not covering) a large contributor to Nancy Pelosi and other congressional Democrats, could be said of so many other stories about Democrat politicians that they don’t appear to have…

  16. denise Says:

    Fred and Scott — Thanks for the additional info on the SF project.

    Will — Thanks for the clarification of your viewpoint with respect to blighted areas.

  17. The LLama Butchers Says:

    Why the Kelo Decision Stinks

    Will Collier digs into the dirt on emminent domain development and campaign donations to the Democratic Party. No wonder Nancy Pelosi liked the decision so much. The human side of the story: Susette Kelo speaks to a large property-rights demonstration…

  18. Say Anything Says:

    Why Pelosi Loves Kelo

    Vodka Pundit has some pretty damning analysis of Nancy Pelosi in regards to her praising the Kelo / imminent domain decision, handed down by the SCOTUS, saying it was “as if God had spoken”…
    After reading the comments in my earlier …

  19. Reid Says:

    Am I looking at the wrong case or weren’t these family businesses forced out of the area in Oakland using eminent domain?

  20. Reid Says:

    ‘Scuse me. Oh well, Oakland, SF… what’s the dif?

  21. Jake Says:

    You didn’t find any Forest City donations? Are you sure you looked (or is it just the combination)?
    The Co-Chairman of Forest City Enterprises, Samuel H Miller is a Republican . He has donated 27,750 in 2002/2004 cycles. These include four digit donations to the Republican Party, Bush, DeWine, Voinovich, Collins, Ralph Regula, DeWine’s Ohio’s 17 Star PAC, Bob Ney, LaTourette, $750 to the Republican Pioneer PAC and smaller donations to other R candidates. The only Ds he’s supported have been Cleland, Eric Fingerhut and Stephanie Tubbs Jones – for a combined $5000 compared to $22000+ to GOP candidates. Finding this information was trivial. Let’s see if more is available.

    Albert Ratner seems to lean D almost as strongly as his fellow co-chair leans R. He also donates to DeWine, McConnell and Voinovich (for example) as well. Albert Ratner also donated to the Republican Party of Florida, the Republican Federal Cmte of Pennsylvania and Republican PACs such as Pioneer Pac and Ohio 17 PAC.

    A “retired” Director who still sits on the board Jerry V Jarrett donated exclusively to Rs – $4,250 in 2002-2004 cycles.

    Brian Ratner donated $101,483 including four digit donations to DeWine, Hastert, Coors, Voinovich, Specter, Heather Wilson, Every Republican is Crucial PAC, Pete’s PAC, McConnell, Ohio’s 17 Star PAC, Santorum, LaTourette, Ralph Regula, Roy Blunt’s Rely on Your Beliefs PAC, Pioneer PAC and George W Bush. Contributions are about even.

    The rest of the board can be found here. Regardless, I think if the underlying point is “Money buys influence” (and that is bad) I think the data supports this. If the point is that Democrats are guilty of this but Republicans are not, the data refutes this.

  22. Sane SF Resident Says:

    Um, Jake, I think that was the point — MSM, as usual, is focusing on Tom Delay while Pull-Face Pelosi is getting a pass.

  23. Anthony Says:

    The Emporium store was not “derelict”, it had been bought by Federated and was being used by Macy’s (part of Federated), for their furniture department. The Bloomingdale’s (another part of Federated) project involved the Emporium building which Federated already owned, and acquiring (through purchase or eminent domain, I don’t know) additional lots, primarily those between Jessie and Mission, I think.

    Eminent domain is sometimes used against big players. The City of San Leandro took the rear portion of a property owned by General Motors, which was being used as a mechanic’s training school, but was slated for demolition and conversion to a dealership, and gave it to neighboring San Leandro Honda for additional car storage.

  24. TC@LeatherPenguin Says:

    One of the things that always made me laugh during the NYC battle about the West Side stadium was those idiot Cablevision/Dolan family clowns considering the proposed stadium a threat to Madison Square Garden, when the Ratners were preparing to build that huge gun aimed right at MSG’s heart over in Brooklyn.

    Talk about “forest for the trees.”

  25. HA Says:

    Jerry Brown has a blog. I encourage everybody to go over there and let the Stalinist bastard know what you think of him stealing people’s proprty in order to benefit his fat cat cronies.

    http://jerrybrown.typepad.com/jerry/

  26. HA Says:

    Fred Jacobsen,

    How do you compensate those owners for the loss of their livelihood? My clients were in their mid-forties, and couldn’t find jobs.

    They’re always looking for good people at the Gulag.

  27. lawhawk Says:

    Will,

    Good article. I’ve been digging around on the whole relationship between Ratner, the NYT, and WTC rebuilding since any office space built at Ground Zero would compete directly with Ratner’s holdings elsewhere in the City – primarily the Times building in Midtown (Class A property), and Metrotech Center (also Class A property). Don’t think for a moment that the Times editorial stance on Kelo, its partners in real estate projects, the Hudson Yards project, the Brooklyn arena, and Ground Zero aren’t related.

  28. Jake Says:

    re Sane SF Resident

    The difference is DeLay accepted gifts and donations that were against House rules (and allegedly in the TRMPAC case, against Texas law). This is not equivalent to receiving any donations. There has been no sign of a connection between these donations – none of which even went to Pelosi – and her comments about the Kelo ruling. Pelosi and DeLay are not exactly on even footing regarding donations. Since 89, Delay has gotten $10,346,647, and Pelosi $5,480,880. Delay has more in Business PAC donations than Pelosi has in total. Delay had twice as many donations in 04 as well. The National Ass. of Realtors (a major destination of Forrest Grove donations) donated 15K to Delay, compared to 10k to Pelosi. This doesn’t even take into account the Americans for Republican Majority PAC which accounted for another 3.7 million in 04 (again more than twice Pelosi’s donations).

    Equating them just doesn’t make sense. Delay takes in massive massive amounts of money, and apparently signifigant amounts are illegal donations. Delay has used donations to force party line votes (and was criticized by the ethics committee). Pelosi raises money at a fairly normal rate and has never been sanctioned by the ethics committee.

  29. Jerry Says:

    About DeLay vs Pelosi. The Dems have really been after DeLay with a big stick helped by MSM. You may not have noticed that when some of the radio talk hosts, internet news and bloggers began to list the SAME acceptance of paid trips for Dems that suddenly a host of Dems including Ms. Pelosi have come forward with paper filings of their own trips that amount to a “Mea Culpa”.

    Your use of “allegedly” is well advised, as nothing has yet been proved against DeLay except that a Dem prosecutor in TX filed a bunch of spurious allegations against him.
    Mr DeLay is certainly effective–but to the MSM that is not a good thing. Looking back at LBJ, the greatest conniver in political history, he got away with everything but murrder but the MSM and the ethics cmte never climbed him frame.

    Of course they are still after DeLay, but i will wait for proof, not the conviction of him in the media.

  30. jeffers Says:

    Surprise, surprise, digging into one eminent domain case turns up precisely the same kind of connections between the “developer” and the government as I found in the Kelo case:

    http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1433107/posts

    Follow the money.

    If the scum can’t profit, they won’t have an incentive to do the deed in the first place.

  31. Tom Bowler Says:

    There’s at least one effort at framing a Constitutional Amendment coming up out of the blogosphere.

    “The right to ownership of property being the cornerstone of liberty, no government body within these United States shall have the authority to take property from one private citizen, corporation, or organization to be given, sold, leased, rented, or otherwise conveyed in any form to any other citizen, corporation, or organization for any reason. No private citizen, corporation, or organization shall own any right, title, or interest in the property so acquired. Public use shall be understood to be property entirely owned, maintained and operated by government for a period of not less than 50 years.

    Just Compensation shall be higher of the twice average of either the price paid for similar property in the preceding six months or the average of the previous 10 recorded similar property transactions. Compensation paid shall be exempt from taxation in any form by any government within these United” States.

    It can be found with all previous revisions here.
    http://nomayo.mu.nu/archives/100616.php

  32. WILLisms.com Says:

    Some Call It A Bonfire/Carnival Of Classiness…

    We call it “Classiness, All Around Us.” Click to explore more WILLisms.com. In no particular order, WILLisms.com presents classiness from the blogosphere (now with 50% more classy!): 1. Nancy Pelosi and Eminent Domain- Vodka Pundit (via Daly Thoughts) …

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