I am writing this OpEd in response to the July 2nd Wilmington (Delaware) News Journal editorial titled “How Eminent Domain Finally Went Down” http://www.delawareonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080702/OPINION05/807020328/1004/OPINION by Ron Williams. While I often disagree with the opinion columns of Mr. Williams, I usually find his writings well-researched, factually sound and thought provoking. Unfortunately, this is not true in this case.
The Williams editorial demonstrated a vehement anti-labor union bias. It was excessively personal in the tone and content. It disrespected the State Senate and contained factual errors. It contributed almost nothing toward informing the public concerning the many different policy considerations concerning the proper use of eminent domain powers by state and local governments.
The anti-labor union bias of the editorial is deeply disturbing. The article essentially seems to blame the veto of S.B. 245 on threats from organized labor. This contention is unproven and, to the best of my knowledge, completely untrue. Some unions did actively lobby against the bill. Does Mr. Williams consider all lobbying “threats” or only when he disagrees with the positions of those doing the lobbying?
Unions were criticized harshly for being concerned about future jobs. It is unfortunately true that many large corporations and significant elements of the Republican Right are insufficiently concerned with the creation of good-paying jobs in Delaware and nationally. Most citizens appreciate the positive role of organized labor in lobbying for good jobs. Labor unions are one of the very few forces defending the jobs of working Americans whether they are unionized or not!
I know that the eminent domain controversy arising out of S.B. 245 may have scared off at least two major business projects once being considered for Delaware. These two projects would have brought $500 million in new construction to Wilmington and provided hundreds of good-paying long-term jobs to Delaware. Eminent domain was not necessarily required to complete the projects but the businesses involved did not want to necessarily undertake them without that option being available if absolutely required. S.B. 245 introduced an unnecessary risk in the business equation.
The eminent domain debate is about more than the obvious components of property rights and government power. It is about the proper role of governments at every level balancing property rights, jobs, property values, societal responsibility, public education funding, crime and many other factors to achieve the maximum public good without unduly undermining individual rights. The current system already does a pretty good job of balancing these conflicting policy considerations.
S.B. 245 addresses a perceived problem more than a real one. Eminent domain in Delaware has to date not been used to transfer private property to a different private owner. It is very unlikely to ever be used that way in Delaware with the possible exception of projects addressing urban blight in some of the most distressed communities. Urban renewal in Wilmington has so far been a pretty positive development for the citizens of Delaware. S.B. 245 puts that progress at risk.
Should an individual owner of a distressed property always be able to have the power to block urban renewal at their whim without the public having any recourse in law? Under current law, property owners faced with eminent domain will receive full market value for their properties. The courts set the price received not the government entity exercising eminent domain powers. There are always going to public hearings and testimony before eminent domain is exercised in urban renewal projects. It is a fair process.
Williams was wrong to imply that the Governor vetoed the bill under pressure or threats. The opponents of the bill had sound arguments to offer and convinced the Governor on basis of the merits of their case. The same can be said for the members of the legislature who opposed overriding the veto.
While I do believe that Senator Venables is a gentleman, the same can be said of nearly every member of that esteemed body. Williams was wrong to state otherwise. He owes the ladies and gentlemen of the State Senate an apology.
The editorial falsely identified Brian McGlinchey as head of the Laborers union. This is factually incorrect. He is a valued staff member and important lobbyist for that union. He does not head that union either locally, regionally or nationally. The editorial called McGlinchey a “national heavy” which is an unfortunate choice of words. He is nationally prominent in labor, Democratic and progressive circles. For a very young man, he is exceptionally skilled and well-informed. However, Brian McGlinchey is deeply rooted in Delaware politics. He is a very talented advocate.
Even before joining the Laborers, McGlinchey was noted for being a passionate advocate for working Delawareans, the poor and the downtrodden. His role in this issue was not correctly reflected by the Williams editorial. Did the writer actually talk with McGlinchey before writing about his role? He should have if he did not.
The News Journal should try to reach out to organized labor and offer them a more balanced editorial policy. The Williams column indicates that the News Journal editorial staff does not have a balanced understanding of the nature and role of the labor movement in Delaware. I am sure the bias is unintentional and easily corrected with better communication.