Annually, OCA identifies individuals who have made a substantial contribution toward advancing private property rights, presenting the Crystal Eagle Award to each as a symbol of the freedoms protected through their work. Past recipients include Gideon Kanner, Esq. (Professor Emeritus, Loyola School of Law and of-counsel, Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP, Los Angeles), Dana Berliner, Esq. (Senior Attorney, Institute for Justice), Dean Starkman (Journalist), Professor James Ely (Vanderbilt University and author of The Guardian of Every Other Right), Dennis Hartig (former Journalist and News Editor, The Virginian-Pilot) as well as Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes (Fox News Channel talk show co-hosts).
Norman Oder, freelance journalist and creator of the watchdog blog Atlantic Yards Report, and Robbie Whelan, Business/Real Estate Reporter for The Daily Record (Baltimore, Maryland) and freelance writer/blogger will each be honored with the Crystal Eagle Award at OCA’s tenth annual meeting on February 6, 2010.
Norman Oder’s journalism career has spanned more than 25 years. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The American Lawyer, Columbia Journalism Report and The Village Voice. Mr. Oder received the ABA’s Silver Gavel Award for Media and the Arts in 1989 (while at the Charleston, West Virginia Gazette) and received a Master of Studies in Law (MSL) on a journalism fellowship at Yale Law School. He currently works as News Editor for a NYC-based trade magazine, and volunteers a second shift on his daily blog, Atlantic Yards Report. The blog takes a critical look at Atlantic Yards—an enormously controversial project to build a basketball arena and 16 towers near his home in Brooklyn—and follows broader issues of development policy and eminent domain around metro New York. In doing so, he provides a mix of reportage, commentary, and analysis, using the online format—including, this year, video—to go into far more detail than available in other media.
As Oder professes skepticism of the developer’s claims, the expected economic benefits of the project, and the fairness of the process, he comes closer to aligning himself with project opponents than with the taking authority and the developer. “My goal as a blogger is fairness, not some ‘he said she said’ version of objectivity,” he asserts. But he maintains rigorous standards, sourcing his work with links to documents and critiquing project opponents when they stray from the facts.
Oder has been interviewed for and cited regularly in press coverage of Atlantic Yards. In May 2008, he was listed as #77 in a list of the most powerful people in New York real estate by the New York Observer—the only person honored who was moonlighting.
Oder’s work involves regular critiques of media coverage, long-form reporting of events like public hearings and court arguments, and detailed analyses of documents like legal papers and those submitted for the state’s environmental process. He regularly gleans scoops by filing Freedom of Information Law requests and bridges the gap between legal formality and ground-level reality by showing how, for example, the state’s claims of blight in and around the project sight are suspect.
In writing hundreds of thousands of words a year over more than four years, he offers a longitudinal view of an enormously contested project, one that Kent Barwick, former president of the Municipal Art Society, suggested might be “this generation’s Penn Station,”—in that, just as the demolition of the station galvanized the historic preservation movement in the 1960s, so too the enormously questionable process behind Atlantic Yards might prompt revision of the way the city and New York state, which is considered to the most condemnor-friendly eminent domain laws in the nation, go about development and eminent domain.
Robbie Whelan is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University where he was co-editor of The Johns Hopkins News-Letter. Whelan began his career as a freelance journalist for such periodicals as The Washington Post, Baltimore City Paper, Pittsburgh City Paper, Hindustan Times, The Brooklyn Rail, The Next American City, Mental Floss and Urbanite. Whelan has worked as a Daily Record Business Writer since 2007.
In December 2008, Whelan authored a three-part series regarding the use of eminent domain in the Baltimore area. The series, "Condemned: The Use of Eminent Domain in Baltimore," focused on Baltimore’s plans for urban renewal and the use of the “quick-take” method of condemnation to remove less desirable properties deemed “blighted.” Whelan wrote in his December 4, 2008 article, In Baltimore, Condemnation Drives Urban Renewal, “But in Baltimore, the use of condemnation powers—otherwise known as eminent domain—has become synonymous with urban renewal.” Whelan exposed the abusive practices of Baltimore city government which included designating as blighted those buildings and properties which the city felt would be better utilized as part of an urban renewal or economic development project.
Whelan’s investigative series effected changes in how the Baltimore city government approached eminent domain. After the series ran in The Daily Record, the city reviewed its policies and practices with respect to the “quick-take” method and, subsequently, reduced the number of “quick-take” actions filed in court. Mr. Whelan’s series was nominated for both the 2009 MD-DC Press Association Editorial Awards and UCLA's Gerald Loeb Award in Business Journalism.
This year OCA is honored to present the Crystal Eagle Award to Norman Oder and Robbie Whelan for their dedication to exceptional journalism and critical analysis which has effectively exposed eminent domain abuses in New York and Maryland.