To paraphrase former New York Mets great Chico Escuela, “Eminent domain been berry, berry good to me.” And despite the protestations of Jeb Bush at the recent ABC News Republican Presidential Debate in Manchester, New Hampshire, eminent domain has been berry, berry good to the Bush family as well.
As reported by Pam Key of the Breitbart.com news portal on Feb. 6, 2016, the former governor of the Sunshine State got into a bit of a blowup with fellow candidate Donald Trump over the morality of eminent domain. While Bush defended “eminent domain for public purpose” such as the construction of roads and pipelines, he also hammered Trump’s past troubles with the same.
Unfortunately for Jeb, he some how forgot that his big brother, former President George W. Bush, also benefited from eminent domain long ago and far away. And Dubya’s windfall wasn’t for a road or a pipeline, but for a major league ball park.
But to place the entire conundrum into its proper perspective, the latest brouhaha between Bush and Trump as it transpired Saturday night;
Trump: “Let me just tell you about eminent domain. So many people have hit me with commercials and other things about eminent domain. Eminent domain is an absolute necessity for a country, for our country. Without it, you wouldn’t have roads. You wouldn’t have hospitals. You wouldn’t have anything. You wouldn’t have schools. You need eminent domain. And a lot of the big conservatives that tell me how conservative they are, they all want the Keystone pipeline. The Keystone pipeline, without eminent domain, it wouldn’t go ten feet, okay? You need it.”
Bush: “The difference between eminent domain for public purpose, roads and pipelines, that’s for public purpose. What Donald Trump did was use eminent domain to try to take the property of an elderly woman on the strip in Atlantic City. That is not public purpose. That is down right wrong. Here’s the problem with that. The problem was, it was to tear down.”
With the bad blood between the two GOP contenders placed into context, Tom Farrey of ESPN penned a timeline report of how Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, came into being. In part, Farrey details some of the more specifics concerning how a Texas businessman was able to take control of 13 acres worth of someone else’s property to build a multi-million dollar ballpark, all with the key help of a Democrat governor;
1989 – April: Bush helps arrange a syndicate to purchase controlling interest in the Texas Rangers for $89 million. He borrows $500,000 to buy a small stake in the team and convinces the investor group to make him managing general partner. Bush becomes the public face of the team, while co-general partner Rusty Rose assumes control over the financial side. He receives a reported salary of $200,000 and begins lobbying for a new stadium for the club, which plays in a renovated minor-league facility, Arlington Stadium.
1991 – April: The Rangers shepherd through the Texas legislature a bill that creates the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority (ASFDA), a quasi-governmental entity that is given the power of eminent domain. Shortly after the bill is signed by new governor Ann Richards, 13 acres of private property are seized for the Rangers’ new ballpark, later prompting two lawsuits.
In the regards to the 13 acres previously mentioned, Robert Bryce of the Austin Chronicle posted;
“The Rangers are in an ongoing dispute with the City of Arlington and the Arlington Sports Facilities Development Authority (ASFDA) over who will pay a $4.98 million jury award to the Mathes family, which owned more than 13 acres of land condemned in 1991 by the ASFDA and now covered primarily by parking lots used by stadium visitors. With accumulated interest, the jury award reached a total of $7.2 million last month, when the Mathes family decided to take the jury award and call off their appeal of the verdict.”
As far as Trump’s woes regarding his oft-condemned move to “take the property of an elderly woman” as Jeb characterized the move, I. Nelson Rose, professor of law at Whittier Law School in Costa Mesa, California, as well as considered one of the leading legal experts in the gaming industry, published a detailed editorial mercifully written in layman’s terms. Rose opines that the elderly owner of the house in question “understood the power of legal extortion and filed suit” against Trump.
As it turns out, Trump purchased a chunk of property from Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione, who had plans for his own Atlantic City resort, but ran out of money. Guccione succeeded in only erecting a set of eventually rusting girders surrounding the boarding house of a certain Vera Coking.
With the Coking home appraised at $251,000, it turns out that the Widow Coking was holding out for a cool $3 million. As Professor Rose noted;
If she were to get any negotiating power over Trump, she would have to get a court order requiring him to leave the rusted steel shell in place — an order that could only be lifted if Trump bought her out. But Coking had to come up with some reason for claiming she now did not want the steel skeleton removed.
Coking’s daughter had already told the press that living is the steel’s shadow was “a nightmare.” So, the best Coking could come up with was that removing the steel would endanger her family, and the temporary protective barrier built over her house would block the sun.
Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Marvin Rimm did not buy it. In 1993 Coking tried a different route: She went after the city planning board to block its approving the Trump Plaza’s expansion. She failed again. The rusting steel superstructure was removed.
It was then that New Jersey’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority filed suit against Coking. Invoking eminent domain, the state was attempting to force Coking to accept the fair market value despite her dropping her asking price down to $1 million.
Coking won the first “public use” battle. Superior Court Judge Richard Williams ruled that it was illegal to take land to build a casino. The New Jersey State Legislature responded by passing an amendment declaring “public use” did in fact include casinos.
But Trump changed his plans. He now intended for the Coking property to be turned into a park instead of a parking lot. The Court of Appeals reversed the previous ruling.
Then the case went back to Judge Williams, “who, according to Nicholas Ribis, C.E.O. and President of Trump Hotels and Casino Resorts Inc., ‘has ruled against us in every case we’ve had before him.’ In late July, 1998, he did again. Judge Williams ruled the taking was illegal because there were no controls on what Trump could do with the property.”
Trump has since decided to cancel his plans to expand his existing developments on the property purchased from Bob Guccione. As fer herself, Professor Rose plainly states, “Coking’s house has become a run-down dump.”
While Jeb is banking on most of the electorate buying off on his “Trump is evil to widows” sound byte, Rose concludes with, “Private property can be condemned for casino development, if the casinos are part of a well-crafted redevelopment plan. Even in this case, Judge William’s decision is probably incorrect, because the Coking property has become such an eye-sore that it hurts the city’s convention and tourist business.”