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Christie Grants Eminent Domain, Doesn't Realize It

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

A little-noticed bill that passed the New Jersey Legislature last month gives extraordinary eminent domain powers to a new higher education board in South Jersey. But Gov. Chris Christie, embroiled in two abuse-of-power scandals and a range of investigations, doesn't know anything about it.

A caller to the "Ask The Governor" radio show on New Jersey 101.5 Monday night questioned Christie about the bill that would allow a new joint Rowan/Rutgers University board to seize private property in Camden.

"The Rowan Rutgers board with powers of eminent domain?" Christie asked, furrowing his brow. He was surprised that such a proposal existed, but said his attorneys would review it if the bill ever made it to his desk.

"I haven’t heard anything to this point about a giving eminent domain to a university," Christie said. "I don’t think that’s how it works."

Except that’s exactly how it works, because Christie himself signed this bill into law less than three weeks ago. And he did so despite opposition from Republicans who were concerned about giving powers of eminent domain to a not-yet-fully-formed board, known as the Rowan University-Rutgers Camden Board of Governors, that is charged with overseeing a brand new health sciences campus.

One concern: Rutgers University itself doesn’t even have powers of eminent domain.

"That was the big sticking point for me," said Assemblyman Jay Webber, a Morris County Republican. "I was reluctant to give yet another body the ability to take private property from property owners."

He was also unhappy because the bill was "slammed through" at the end of the legislative session. There was little debate, but at a state Senate hearing Republican Sen. Joe Pennacchio, also of Morris County, said he had "major concerns about a bill that would give an advisory board, not an elected board, the right of eminent domain, to take away the property rights of individual citizens."

But the new law is rooted in one of Christie’s first term accomplishments — restructuring higher education — that came about because of a partnership with Democrats, not Republicans. The restructuring was pushed by George E. Norcross III, the unelected South Jersey Democratic leader who is the chairman of Cooper University Hospital in Camden. That hospital has a new medical school with Rowan University and directly benefits from both the restructuring and the new eminent domain law.

The bill was rushed through by Norcross ally Stephen Sweeney, the state Senate President and a South Jersey Democrat who has worked extensively with the governor. The quick bill signing indicates that — despite the George Washington Bridge investigation led by Democrats in the Legislature — the alliance between Christie and Sweeney is still very much alive. That suggests Christie may continue to be able to govern despite the bridge scandal and the Sandy funding shakedown allegations plaguing his administration.

Yet Christie’s lack of knowledge about the issue indicates another political reality: The governor may be so distracted by the dual scandals enveloping his administration that he appeared to not be aware of a law he himself signed.

Christie’s spokesmen didn’t reply to several requests for an explanation.

Produced by:

Richard Yeh

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Comments [10]

Gail Cammero Reilly

Why improve Camden City for its current residents if their properties can simply be seized?

Feb. 09 2014 10:28 PM
AnneCarroll from Collingswood, NJ

Could it be that Messrs. Christie, Norcross and Sweeney, by virtue of eminent domain, are trying to kick all the poor people out of Camden City, by hook or by crook. [My emphasis would be on crook.] Eventually Camden would be affordable only to middle and upper classes. Poor people out; well-off people in. New construction deals! A glittering waterfront! "The Ed/Med capital of New Jersey!" What a success story for our "bi-partisan" trio of private/public venture capitalists!

Feb. 08 2014 01:21 PM
Bill Wolfe from Bordentown, NJ

The sponsors were Sweeney and Greenwald

This was a Norcorss machine bill.

Chrisite knew exactly what he was doing.

He got caught again.

Feb. 07 2014 08:57 PM
Conscious at last

Is is possible that Governor Christie is not telling the truth? That is, is it possible that he knows VERY WELL what this bill meant and the he signed it.

Feb. 06 2014 01:08 PM
CharleneDowEdwards from West Trenton

This is a power trip between wealthy men playing games with the poverty stricken people of Camden. We all watched Norcross, Sweeny and Christie ram this eminent domain legislation through to benefit their own wealth and power bases. It’s official now but has been unofficial for decades: Camden City and County belong to Norcross, and now Christie (who took control of the schools) and Sweeney. The poor will stay poor, Camden City schools will stay bad and these crooks will line their pockets. Shameless.

Feb. 06 2014 11:39 AM
Cheryl

Why are Christie scandals the only time NJ gets any coverage?

Feb. 06 2014 10:07 AM
Ted Koczynski from Upper Nyack, NY

If he, (Gov. Christie), does not know what he is signing he is not fit to be Governor.

Feb. 06 2014 08:59 AM

No big deal. Students are difficult to organize and only some owners will be subject to eminent domain and therefore sue.

Oh, the Legislature could have addressed this after Kelo and the citizen response to it. But like many state legislatures, they balked for a while to figure out what they really wanted. The eminent domain reform law of 2013 was bone-headed, as was blogged by Reason and Volokh at the time.

Feb. 06 2014 08:53 AM
Barry

Sweeney and Norcross have taken Christie down to the ground. You need to put Sweeney and Norcross under a federal investigation for violating the color of law, elections fraud and pay to pay

Feb. 05 2014 06:51 PM
Maria Sweeney from bloomfield

Does this surprise anyone? Norcross, Sweeney, Christie, et al. are partners in crime and party affiliation means nothing.

Feb. 05 2014 06:39 PM

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