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War hero who battled Nazis fights for his home


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http://www.northjersey.com/page.php?qst ... VlRUV5eTM=

Wednesday, December 7, 2005

By JEFFREY PAGE

You have to admire people like Johnnie Stevens, a man who decided he would not back down when the government came calling to say it wanted - coveted is more like it - his house in Carteret.

Why should he give the old place up? He has lived in Carteret for the last 50 years, has been in his home for the last 12.

This guy is no Johnnie-come-lately to Carteret. Nor is he a grumpy old misanthrope telling Carteret to go to hell.

In fact, in a way he is Carteret.

He's well-liked around town. He has been a football coach, and the borough even named a day care center in his honor.

So why should this old sick war hero be forced out of his home in order to allow the borough to take possession and then deed the property to a developer who will turn around and build luxury condos and shops.

They call it redevelopment. You would not be over-dramatizing it if you just cut to the chase and called it a travesty.

Stevens is 85. During World War II, he won three Purple Hearts and two Bronze Stars for his exploits as a member of the 761st Tank Battalion, the renowned all-black unit that stormed across Europe after D-Day under George Patton.

He was there when the 761st liberated some of the death camps.

After the war Stevens made a life for himself in Carteret. He drove buses.

Now he is sick, diagnosed with lung cancer and living with an oxygen tank. His doctors give him two more years, tops. His wife is 80. She has cancer, too.

The Stevenses are some of the people being hassled by local governments everywhere that want to seize their homes and turn them over to builders who will jazz up the neighborhood with some apartments there, some fancy shops here, and high sale prices all over.

This is the kind of seizure no one thought possible. Sure, the government always had the right of eminent domain. It could take a property for use by the public. For example, your home could be taken, leveled, and the property used to build, say, a new library or a new ambulance building.

But lose your place so some rich people with no place to go can have a place to live in your town? Who thought that could happen?

Then came June and the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in a case involving New London, Conn. Yes, the justices said, condemnation for re-development is no violation of the Fifth Amendment, which declares: "... nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation."

The justices didn't say they were tossing the Fifth Amendment's public use clause into the trash, but a lot of ordinary people interpreted the ruling just that way.

Which brings the story back to Johnnie Stevens. The Supreme Court says that what Carteret wants from Mr. Stevens is legal, reasonable and just wonderful.

Everybody with a touch of common sense knows the ruling was loony.

Johnnie Stevens was a hero 60 years ago. Now he's expendable. But he won't go quietly.

The fight started when the town made him an offer for his house, which he rejected.

"He's still in his place," said Stevens' lawyer, Anthony Della Pelle of Morristown. "The next event is either he and the town reach a deal he's happy with or the town sues to get his house."

Fairness and equity? Out the window.

E-mail: page@northjersey.com

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I am ashamed of our Country when I read things like this. It isn't "our government" that is to blame. The majority of the American people who voted put the people responsible for this travesty into office. Those office holders appointed the individuals who are now U.S. Supreme Court Justices. If you want to know who is responsible, just look in the mirror and ask your reflection who you voted for.

We'll be seeing more and more of this as time goes on.

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It's not fair. In fact this should be criminal. Texas just rejected a vote that would have given Developers and local government MORE rights in emminent domain. It's one of the few things TX has done lately that I am proud of.

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