Pfizer's Role in Kelo Takings:

Several people have noted that they believe that my reference to "what's good for Pfizer is good for New London" in a recent post was a red herring. As I have noted previously, Justice Stevens begins his opinion by contending that the New London redevelopment plan came about only after painstaking consultation with all relevant stakeholders, and in the end, the city just happened to agree with Pfizer on everything that it wanted, including the taking of the Kelo plaintiffs' homes.

I confess that I was surprised at some of these criticisms. Having talked to lawyers involved in the case, it seemed to be fairly well understood and accepted that Pfizer was the driving force behind the plan and that the takings were undertaken at Pfizer's behest. As one lawyer reported at a Georgetown Federalist Society program that I participated in, "Pfizer got pretty much everything that they wanted."

An article in the the New London Day newspaper (registration required) has now uncovered the depth of the Pfizer's involvement in motivating the government's exercise of the eminent domain power to take the Kelo plaintiffs' homes (HT: Roy Poses at Health Care Renewal Blog). Using extensive documents obtained under the state's Freedom of Information Act, the article reports that Pfizer drove the process from the outset and essentially made the takings of private homes and subsequent redevelopment a condition for its moving to New London.

The article is very long and detailed. I'll just quote the first several paragraphs that sum up the findings of the investigation:

Pfizer's Fingerprints On Fort Trumbull Plan

Documents show the pharmaceutical giant was involved in the Fort Trumbull project form its inception, even before announcing its research center would expand into the New London neighborhood

In mid-July, as commentators and politicians around the country decried this city's attempt to seize private homes for economic development on the Fort Trumbull peninsula, a press release appeared on the Web site of Pfizer Inc.

The pharmaceutical company, whose $300 million research complex sits adjacent to what remains of the neighborhood, announced that it wanted to set the record straight on its involvement in the Fort Trumbull development project.

The project, the statement said, wasn't Pfizer's idea.

"We at Pfizer have been dismayed to see false and misleading claims appear in the media that suggest Pfizer is somehow involved in this matter," the statement said. The writers said the company "has no requirements nor interest in the development of the land that is the subject of the case."

But a recent, months-long review of state records and correspondence from 1997 and 1998 — when officials from the administration of then-Gov. John G. Rowland were helping convince the pharmaceutical giant to build in New London — shows that statement is misleading, at best.

In fact, the company has been intimately involved in the project since its inception, consulting with state and city officials about the plans for the peninsula and helping to shape the vision of how the faded neighborhood might eventually be transformed into a complex of high-end housing and office space, anchored by a luxury hotel.

The records — obtained by The Day through the state Freedom of Information Act — show that, at least as early as the fall of 1997, Pfizer executives and state economic development officials were discussing the company's plans, not just for a new research facility but for the surrounding neighborhood as well.

And, after several requests, the state Department of Economic and Community Development produced a document that both the state and Pfizer had at first said did not exist: A 1997 sketch, prepared by CUH2A, Pfizer's design firm for its new facility. Labeled as a "vision statement," it suggested various ways the existing neighborhood and nearby vacant Navy facility could be replaced with a "high end residential district," offices and retail businesses, expanded parking and a marina.

Those interactions took place months before Pfizer announced that it would build in the city, on the site of the former New London Mills linoleum factory, and months before the New London Development Corp. announced its redevelopment plans for the neighborhood and the former Naval Undersea Warfare Center next door.

As I have noted, a particular understanding of the facts in the case and the governmental processes behind it seems to underpin Justice Stevens's opinion in the case. His belief that judicial enforcement of the "public use" clause is unnecessary seems to be rooted in the notion that local democratic processes will be transparent and participatory in discerning the "public good" in these matters. In fact, it seems clear that Pfizer had the taking of individual's house "wired" from the outset and that there was little that could be done to change this.

The article notes the way in which the Court's particular understanding of the facts influenced its decision in the case:

NLDC and city officials have long characterized their efforts to recast the working-class neighborhood as a response to Pfizer's decision to build on the peninsula, rather than a move made as a condition of Pfizer's involvement in the project.

And in the state and federal court rulings that upheld the city's takings of homes for the private development project, judges at every level of the judiciary have assumed the same.

Even in a blistering dissent, which warned that the NLDC's plan left all private property under the "specter of condemnation," U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor sets the beginning of the case in February 1998, when Pfizer announced its plans to build its facility. While challenging the constitutionality of the eminent domain project, O'Connor and the other justices accept that it was an independent effort to "complement" the construction of a research complex next door.

But in a series of recent interviews, several former high-ranking state officials confirmed what opponents of the project have long insisted and what the company continues to deny: The state's agreement to replace the existing neighborhood was a condition of Pfizer's move here.

Current and former Pfizer executives, meanwhile, concede that the company expected a major redevelopment of the area to occur and offered guidance, but they strongly deny that they insisted on specific changes.

The entire article is worth reading. I hope it is still available on the Day's website.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Pfizer Responds to New London Day Story:
  2. Pfizer's Role in Kelo Takings: