Kelo-New London Aftermath: The 'Fort Trumbull Crumble' Gets No Old Media Attention

Although the Kelo v. New London Supreme Court ruling almost two years ago caused an outpouring of outrage that still resonates nationwide, what has happened in New London itself in the wake of the decision has, with rare exception, received relatively little coverage outside of the state of Connecticut or, in a few instances, New England.

It isn't as if there haven't been many noteworthy developments after the decision was handed down. To start, here is a rundown of events that ultimately led to last summer's settlement:

  • Within a month of the decision, the New London Development Corporation (NLDC) notified the Kelo holdouts that since they had been living on land that they didn't own during the duration of the lawsuit, they were liable for back rents during that entire time, in some cases amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars. This outrage, originally noted in local Connecticut weekly whose article link is no longer available, got no national attention until bloggers took note of it (here, here, and here, to name a few) and percolated it to the higher levels of the blogosphere (examples here [f-bomb warning] and here). Even then, Old Media, with few exceptions, one of them being this USA Today editorial, gave this shocking example of bureaucratic chutzpah little notice.
  • In mid-September 2005, apparently emboldened by the relative lack of outcry, and in defiance of Connecticut Governor Jodi Rell (with whom they had, according to the Associated Press, agreed to halt eminent domain actions while the state's General Assembly reviewed relevant state law), the NLDC issued eviction notices to the holdouts. Within days, the Governor, threatening to withhold state money, forced a rescission of the eviction notices.
  • The backlash to the Supreme Court's decision in New London led to the formation of a new political party, One New London. In November 2005, within just a few months of its creation, the party took two seats on the city's seven-seat City Council and came within 19 votes of gaining a third seat that would have left no political party with a majority (Imagine how much attention a far-left party would get if it ever had such a stunning debut). Perhaps the only thing that prevented One New London from gaining a third seat was Council's severing of its ties with the NLDC. Those ties were restored just days later, apparently after Council was assured that NLDC's president would step down. This made it appear as if Council was unhappy with NLDC's actions during the previous months. One local letter writer in effect characterized this series of actions as a charade, calling it a "sorry spectacle," noting that "The same city councilors who for years actively worked with NLDC members and contractors (and have accepted many thousands of their campaign contribution dollars), now pretend they are really, really mad at NLDC for making a mess of our city."
  • That letter writer was vindicated six months later. During May and June of 2006, One New London's new council members were forced to sit by helplessly as the other five Council members (four Democrats, one Republican) rejected a proposal to move the holdouts' homes to a nearby unused area, again threatened eviction (winnowing the number of holdouts down in the process), and ultimately voted to evict the final two holdouts, Susette Kelo and the Cristofaro family. Though the eviction vote gained some national attention, no one in the press ever took note of the fact that one building would be allowed to remain (the high-powered, politically-connected Italian Dramatic Club; you must see the map at the link to understand just how outrageous the IDC's exemption from eminent domain was), and that Council had voted to impose the same odious back-rent and other financial penalties the NLDC had threatened the holdouts with the previous summer.
  • Finally, Governor Rell intervened by extending the deadline for Kelo and the Cristofaros to respond and sending a negotiator to the city. The final settlement in late June 2006 allowed Kelo to keep her home but forced her to move it (she has until June 15, 2007 to do that), and gave the Cristofaros what family spokesman Mike Cristofaro in essence felt was a dignified conclusion. What went unnoticed outside of New London is that in the meantime, the One New London Party had gathered enough signatures on a petition to put the issue of seizing the final two properties to a referendum. It is not unreasonable to believe that the Council majority softened its stance in response to the prospect of what would likely have been a humiliating repudiation at the hands of New London voters.

* * * * *

Almost two years since the Supreme Court ruling, and nearly one year after the final settlement, what has happened at Fort Trumbull? Well, nothing much of substance:

  • The NLDC has asked the state for yet more money.
  • The Coast Guard has apparently surprised and disappointed at least one person by deciding to locate its national museum at "Parcel 1" in the Fort Trumbull area, and not at Parcel 4A, where the homes of Kelo and other residents once were. Unless I'm mistaken, this means that there is no active development taking place on 4A, leading one to wonder why the homes had to be taken in the first place.
  • The NLDC's president, Mike Joplin, has betrayed a mind-boggling lack of urgency in getting anything accomplished, telling the local New London Day (excerpted at New London Calling; quoted items are what The Day wrote, and are not exactly what Joplin said) that "it will probably be five years, or more, before visitors step foot in the museum," and that "the master development plan for the site has always been a 30-year-project."

To my knowledge, there has never been any mention of a "30-year project" until now. New London Calling, who is closer to the situation, also cannot recall any reference to 30 years. Imagine if someone in the Bush Administration reminded the press that the War on Terror has always been expected to be a "lengthy campaign," even though it has, unlike Joplin's out-of-the-blue statement, been portrayed as such from the very beginning.

On one level, it's hard to understand why there has been so little Old Media interest in what has happened to the real people involved in the New London-Fort Trumbull situation since the Kelo ruling. After all, it has been a David-Goliath situation from the start.

But it seems that when expansion of government power is the ultimate issue, Goliath gets a pass -- even on the "development" project that may someday be known as "The Fort Trumbull Crumble."

Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.

Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer
Tom Blumer is a contributing editor for NewsBusters.