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“Pink Houses” a David-Goliath tale

Mar 16 2009

The Bookworm

“Little Pink House” by Jeff Benedict, c. 2009, Grand Central Publishing, $26.99, 397 pages, includes index.

You never thought it possible.

Your neighbors lost their home. Foreclosed, just like that. And then another, and another down the road. “For Sale” signs sprout like dandelions on your block and moving trucks wear down the pavement. Two streets over, same story.

Maybe one of the foreclosures was yours.

But forget about mortgage for a minute. Let’s skip ahead and say you own your home. You’ve fixed it up, filled it with things you love. You know your neighbors and you like the neighborhood. You can live there as long as you want, right?

In the new book “Little Pink House” by Jeff Benedict, you’ll see how chillingly, frighteningly wrong you are.

For most of her life, Susette Kelo had very little to call her own. Pregnant at 16 and the mother of five by age 23, Kelo was on the edge of leaving a bad second marriage when she found a house in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn. Smitten with the ramshackle home, she bought it, updated it and filled it with antiques.

Within months, her “living nightmare” began.

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. announced plans for a compound on waterfront property near historic Fort Trumbull. The state of Connecticut got behind the project, as did the city of New London. There would be an upscale hotel and office buildings. The tax base would be greater and jobs would be created.

To proceed, the city needed to buy properties from the homeowners in the area. And when that didn’t completely happen, they proceeded with eminent domain. One of the homes they wanted was Kelo’s.

In exercising eminent domain, the government appropriates private property for the sake of public use, for instance, as with a new road or bridge. Clearly, since the property was being taken for private use, this action would set precedents.

As homeowners resisted and the project fell behind schedule, the organization in charge of implementation turned up the heat. Residents of the neighborhood alternately felt intimidated, fearful and angry. Undaunted, Kelo, her neighbors and supporters contacted the Institute for Justice (a public-interest law firm) and dug in their heels all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Property rights or property wrongs? You’ll ask yourself that many times as you read this stunning, true legal narrative.

As a rousing David-and-Goliath story, “Little Pink House” tells of legal maneuvers, politicking and courage of conviction. It’s a book that will make you want to keep tabs on city hall, just in case. It will make any homeowner terrified.

Benedict says he interviewed many of the key players in this drama and his authentic presentation will snatch your interest by Page 5. Though Benedict offers both viewpoints in the argument, it will be hard for you not to pick sides. Deciding to bury yourself in this true white-knuckler is, however, an easy choice.

If you can’t wait for your favorite legal-thriller author’s next book, fill in the empty time with this tremendous, don’t-miss book. “Little Pink House” may have you seeing red.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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