Perkins Will Lead Statewide Crusade for Eminent Domain Reform

Perkins Will Lead Statewide Crusade for Eminent Domain Reform

By Jimmy Vielkind
December 21, 2009 | 9:31 a.m.

As far as Bill Perkins is concerned, the issue of eminent domain has got legs.

"It's really a corruption of our notion of democracy," said Perkins, a Democratic state senator who represents Harlem. He was speaking Saturday at a Pentecostal church on 125th Street. The room was one-third filled by people who are concerned about the issue and active in fighting its application around the city: at the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, in Willets Point in Queens and just down the road in Manhattanville, where Columbia wants to build a new campus.

Perkins was prompted to action two weeks ago, when an appellate court ruled that the Empire State Development Corporation acted improperly by declaring parts of Manhattanville blighted ahead of condemnation for Columbia's campus. Columbia first asked ESDC to look into eminent domain in 2004.

Perkins on Saturday reiterated his call that ESDC not appeal this decision, and called for a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for private development until a commission can be formed and recommend revisions to the eminent domain procedure law.

"This is a very, very important movement," Perkins said, announcing a formal hearing in Harlem on January 5. "We're going to be going around the state to develop a case for reform."

He said the current law is a "corruption of our democracy." He's also said it's like "a gun to the community's head."

The cause is related to Perkins' last legislative accomplishment: stricter oversight of public authorities (many of which have and use eminent domain powers). He said there was no partner in the Assembly, but Richard Brodsky has in the past called for an eminent domain commission and other reforms. None have passed.

The event featured a panel who spoke about various fronts in eminent domain--attorney Norman Siegel, Daniel Goldstein of DDDB, Amy Lavine of Albany Law School--who spoke about their hopes for the Columbia case and about stopping the sale of bonds for the Atlantic Yards.

Later, at a separate event down the road, I and a few other reporters asked David Paterson about Perkins' call for him not to appeal the court decision, which he dismissed.

"We thought that the process was in compliance with land use principles and did not violate eminent domain," Paterson said. "When I was a state senator in 2005 and I saw the original plan, I was virulently opposed to it, but we though that ESDC and Columbia University had adjusted that plan to be in compliance with the law. This whole idea of telling people not to appeal is, if ESDC had won the appellate division, the other side would have gone to the Court of Appeals, people told me not to appeal the lieutenant governor appointment after the Court of Appeals, remember, ruled against it unanimously and if I had listened to them, we would not have a lieutenant governor right now, would we?"