| Little Pink House: A True Story of Defiance and Courage
by Jeff Benedict
GLENN: From Radio City in Midtown Manhattan, third most listened to show in all of America. Hello, you sick twisted freak. Welcome to the program. There is a new book out called Little Pink House: The True Story of Defiance and Courage. For anybody who says, "I can’t win, we’ll never beat them, the government’s out of control, I’m going to unplug, I’m done, I’m so angry, I’m going to act on my anger," this is a book for you. The true story of defiance and courage, one woman fighting for her Little Pink House, fighting eminent domain. In quite possibly the worst ruling of the Supreme Court, something that has dismantled your right to property more than anything else has been the key lo case," and everybody has missed the story except Jeff Benedict. Jeff Benedict is with us now. Hi, Jeff, how are you?
BENEDICT: Hey, it’s great to be with you, Glenn.
GLENN: So remind everybody the story. Tell the story in a nutshell on what happened. Start with the woman bought this house.
BENEDICT: The nutshell story, Glenn, is Suzette key lo went through a divorce in her early 40s, was looking to start life over, had never owned anything in her life, she found a ramshackled cottage on Long Island Sound, buys it, moves in and doesn’t realize that the governor at that time, John Rowland and his chief of staff Peter Ellef were in talks with Pfizer Corporation —
GLENN: Hold on just a second. You mean Governor Rowland, the one that went to prison for corruption?
BENEDICT: That’s the one.
GLENN: Just want to make sure I — there’s a lot of governors going to jail for corruption. Just wanted to make sure I had the right one.
BENEDICT: He’s one of them. He basically makes a deal with Pfizer which was not illegal. He just, he promised Pfizer that if they would build in New London a global research headquarters that the state would clear 90 acres of land around it and that it could be remade the way Pfizer wanted it, which was five star hotel, health club, spa, stuff like that.
BENEDICT: The city starts going after these homes and some people sell out of fear, some people sell because they want to get the money, but there’s a neighborhood that’s been there for 100 years, a lot of Italian immigrants. Suzette key lo is the new person in the neighborhood. They don’t want to go and when they tell the city they would like to stay and keep their homes, the city’s response is simply, well, then we’ll just take them. And they condemned these properties even though they are not blighted and so starts the battle.
GLENN: Now, here she is, a woman who has never owned a piece of property before. She, I would imagine just like anybody, would say, "Well, wait a minute, you can’t do that." What was it about her that said, "Take a stand"?
BENEDICT: I think the reason I focus so much on her background and who she is is when you realize where she came from, she grew up in a single parent home in the woods of Maine. She was dirt poor as a child, had chocolate water for breakfast, wore socks for mittens. She had never had anything. She has children at a very young age and she’s a great mother. She raises her sons. The bottom line is after two failed marriages and a pretty tough life, in her early 40s she finally has something. It’s a home. It’s that basic thing that I think most Americans want is their own space and a place to live. And she earned it. She paid for it. And she fixed it up and improved it and made it an attractive place and all of a sudden a city comes along and says, "Well, we’re going to condemn it because we think we can do something better with that property." And I think that it was, for her it was very personal.
GLENN: Okay. They offered her $70,000. She bought it for $53,000. Why wouldn’t she just sell it?
BENEDICT: Well, first of all, when she bought it, it was a mess. I mean, she put a lot of sweat equity into it that I think made it worth more than that. But it was not about that. It was about a place that you could go at night and feel safe, a place where she could start her life over. She loved her neighbors, and I’m not sure, Glenn, you can put a price on having wonderful neighbors in a close-knit community. A lot of communities in America aren’t like that anymore. This is a community where most people had been there for — their families had been there for three generations. Nobody locked their doors. It was safe. That stuff is hard to put a tag on.
GLENN: Okay. Let me play devil’s advocate.
GLENN: She did put a price on it. It was $442,000. She finally sold the house for $442,000. If it wasn’t about money, if it was about, you know, the neighborhood, et cetera, et cetera, why when they came to her finally and said, "Okay, 442," did she sell it?
BENEDICT: Well, that was after the Supreme Court ruling seven years later and the Supreme Court said you have to get out, she couldn’t stay there anymore. At that point the new governor of Connecticut, Jodi Rell who had inherited this mess, she basically had her agent go to these holdouts and said, look, open the checkbook no matter what it takes, get them out. And all of them got sums that were in that area. And I think probably they could have even got more when you look at what happened to them and their properties over an eight year battle.
GLENN: Okay. Here is the part, Jeff, that I found in the book interesting because there was no effort to hide their identity, there was no effort on their part to say, "Hey, just keep this between us," but as they started — as she would lose case after case and they started to — I mean, let me see if I can find it here in the book. The part where it’s in the Supreme Court and they are going back and forth on, you know — I want to understand this right. It’s between O’Connor and Scalia, right?
GLENN: And they are going back and forth and they are having this conversation of, "Wait a minute, I just want to understand the City of New London’s position here. You can take property away from somebody if they’re paying more taxes and Sandra Day O’Connor’s expecting them to say no, and they say yes. And Scalia says, wait a minute, so if you have a Motel 6 and a Ritz Carlton wants to come in, you can take that property from the Motel 6 and the city said, well, yes, if they are paying more property tax, significantly more, yes, we can.
BENEDICT: Yeah, there’s this great back story there, Glenn. It’s unbelievable. But the lawyers for the city actually had an internal fight over how to answer that question because they knew it was going to come up. They didn’t expect it to come from O’Connor, but it did come up from O’Connor and the lawyers didn’t agree. And the bottom line was the lead lawyer who argued the case said, "You know what, I’m just going to answer it the way it is because I don’t want to get bogged down here." And he shocked O’Connor when he said yes and that’s why Scalia jumped in and goes, "Wait, wait, let me just make sure I get this clear. You’re saying that you can take from A and give to B if B can pay more taxes?" Yes. And it just, it stunned everyone.
GLENN: So how did they win after this?
BENEDICT: Well, you have to ask Ginsburg and Breyer and Souter.
GLENN: I mean, it’s incredible.
GLENN: So here it is, the case where the government now for money can take your property, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Pursuit of happiness was changed from property for slave reasons. The North didn’t want to put property there because they knew then the South would always have this argument, the property’s in there and slaves are property. So they changed it to pursuit of happiness at the last minute, but they always meant property. You have a right to life, liberty and property. Now they can take it from you. When she started to lose, tell me about the phone calls and the letters she started to get.
BENEDICT: Oh, it was incredible, Glenn. There were people calling — when this Supreme Court decision was announced, that day she started getting deluged with phone calls, e-mails, letters from not just around the United States but literally around the world. But many people from the Midwest, from the West, from the South started calling up and saying to her, "Look, welcome up there and surround your house. We’ll protect it, we’ll defend it." I mean, people, they were so shocked that this could happen. And it’s funny because Suzette and I just were in Texas last week and we ran into a lot of people down there who were very familiar with the decision and they are still outraged about it three years later. You can’t believe that this could happen in America.
GLENN: I tell you, Jeff, you want a story of stories, you go down in Texas and you do a story on the Republic of Texas and how these people are not going to see a republic destroyed. I tell you, these Texans are serious about their personal rights. They are serious about what’s going on in today’s world.
GLENN: So these people, they would offer to come up and she said, "No, no, no, that’s quite all right." Was it shocking to you on how open these people were, how open and willing they were to stand up and say, "Bulldozer can run me right over. They ain’t coming and touching the house"?
BENEDICT: I think what it — and what it indicated to me, Glenn, I think I knew this before but I appreciate it a lot more now is how much homeownership and private property rights matter to Americans, to all of us because none of these people knew her. They didn’t know the neighborhood. And the fact that so many people were willing to defend it. The reason she told people not to come is quite frankly Suzette was scared. She was terrified at what could happen if that area became — they could have had a serious uprising there and the governor of Connecticut, I think the reason that the governor took the approach "Let’s just spend a lot of money here," they knew they had a pickle on their hands. The Supreme Court was saying they have to go, the city wouldn’t back down and there were literally hundreds if not thousands of people who were promising to come down there. Some people were promising to bring guns to defend this house.
GLENN: So what is the message that is applicable to today and the message of empowerment?
BENEDICT: I think it’s simple. Whether you are talking about little public board of education in your town, a zoning decision, no matter what it is, when someone tells you it’s inevitable, it can’t be stopped, it’s a done deal, this book tells you that’s not true. These are people who had no power and no money and they stood their ground for eight years, and although they lost a 5-4 decision, that effort has in turn cost 43 states in the United States in the last three years to change their eminent domain laws or pass constitutional amendments to ban the Supreme Court decision from applying in those states. If that doesn’t give you inspiration to stand up and do the right thing, I don’t know what does.
GLENN: The name of the book is Little Pink House: The True Story of Defiance and Courage. It is really a story for our time and you’ll find yourself in the story some place. Jeff, thanks a lot, man, I appreciate it.
BENEDICT: Thank you, Glenn.
GLENN: You bet. Name of the book again, Little Pink House by Jeff Benedict.