One of the most outrageous applications of the power of eminent domain took place a few years ago in Syracuse, New York, where a local redevelopment agency set out to condemn, not leasehold interests, but rather specific provisions in leases of major tenants occupying space in an existing shopping mall that had been built as part of an earlier redevelopment project. This was done in order to facilitate another redeveloper’s plans for an expansion of that mall. The protesting tenants included JC Penney and Lord & Taylor. They argued that the changes sought to be imposed unilaterally on their leases by the use of eminent domain were contrary to the parties’ intent when those leases were entered into, and had they known that such changes would occur, they never would have entered into those leases in the first place. That sounds like a reasonable argument. But, hey man, this was New York whose courts neither see, nor hear, nor speak evil when it comes to redevelopment takings, and routinely reject owners’ submissions in terse opinions. And so it was in this case. See In re Kaufman’s Carousel v. Syracuse Industrial Development Agency, 70 N.Y.S.2d 212 (App. Div. 2002).
We now learn from the New York Times that there were aspects to this deal that are — shall we say? – fascinating. According to the Times (Charlie Savage, A Donor’s Gift Soon Followed Clinton’s Help, N.Y. Times, Jan. 4, 2009, at p. 1) New York Senator Hilary Clinton “helped secure millions of dollars in federal assistance for the [Syracuse] mall project” now known as Destination USA, for which she took repeated public credit. That legislation makes the bonds used to finance the Syracuse redevelopment project, tax free, being as they are said to be “green bonds” – i.e., they finance “environmentally friendly projects,” like recycled materials, and solar power panels — stuff that a lender would not ordinarily approve. So here it is, folks. A humongous shopping mall gets a bundle under the “green” banner as “environmentally friendly.” Goes to show how little we know – we always thought that large shopping malls consume vacant land and attract a lot of shoppers, thus requiring a large infrastructure, and generating traffic that contributes to traffic congestion, air pollution and global warming – things that would seem to be something less than environmentally desirable.
But that’s the least of it. What makes this story noteworthy (presumably that’s how it wound up on the front page of the New York Times) is that after those bonds were approved by Congress, and after Senator Clinton repeatedly took credit for pushing them through, the redeveloper behind Destination USA, donated $100,000 to the William J. Clinton Foundation that finances Bill Clinton’s presidential library and donates funds to other projects favored by him. So what, you say — a fellow should be free to support a fellow Democrat if he pleases. True enough, except that the gentleman in question isn’t a Democrat; according to the Times, he is “a major Republican campaign fund-raiser,” a “Bush Ranger” who in 2004 alone gathered more than $200,000 for the Bush-Cheney ticket, as well as additional funds for the Republican National Committee and several Republican presidential candidates. Nonetheless, he says he thought that Bill Clinton was “a great president.”
The bottom line — in the words of the Times:
“[This] contribution is the only known situation so far in which an American donor gave a large sum to Mr. Clinton’s foundation while benefiting from his wife’s official actions.”