Hampton Roads / Local / Politics

Why we should be glad some people just don’t get over it

This past week Frank Ottofaro of Hampton passed away.  Many people in Hampton know that name because the fight he has had with the City of Hampton pertaining to eminent domain for the last decade. Mr. Ottofaro had a rental house that was taken by the city to build the power plant (Bass Pro, Lowes, BJ’s)  in Hampton. Mr. Ottofaro did not want to accept what the city offered and took them to court. He was even more upset because he said that they never even built on that land and knew there were not going to when the case went to court.  The case ended up being decided in a divided supreme court which favored the City of Hampton. Most assumed Mr. Ottofaro had lost and that would be the end. However,  Mr. Ottofaro still had his freedom of speech. He used it at every council meeting for the next decade to tell everyone what the city had done and make sure no one forgot. Sometimes the conversations got very personal as he specifically blamed the city manager at the time who is now a council member. At one point Mr. Ottofaro was talking about how people had to stand up for what is right like Rosa Parks had done. To which Council George Wallace stood up and yelled back at Mr. Ottofaro he had no right to speak Ms. Parks name all the while Councilwoman Leary tried to pull Councilman Wallace back in his seat. So this issue was taken very personally on both sides.

The council tried many things over the years to stop citizen input and used him as the reason why it was ok to do so. They limited the amount of time people could speak. Suggestions were made that people could only speak once every couple of months. One council meeting which allowed for citizen input was removed but later the citizen input section was restored by the current council.  The tactic that makes me most upset was current council members belittling citizens who spoke during public input sessions. They said citizens just wanted to be seen on TV or wanted attention. I am always suspicious of people who can not argue their side of a position but just belittle people in hopes they go away. I soon began to hear this same comment restated by some city employees. This would make most people give up. Not Mr. Ottofaro.

Some people will remember him as the man in the wheel chair in the back of the room who gave out lifesavers to people waiting to speak. I will remember him as a man who was determined to stand up for his and other rights even though he knew the City of Hampton would never change their mind.

Mr. Ottofaro is an example of why we need people who won’t  “get over it ” or “move on.” He reminds me of other people who also stood up and spoke out even when it was dangerous. Some for whom it did not work out well for like Socrates. Socrates wandered the streets of Athens talking to people and supposedly sometimes yelling at people. He was put to death but his student Plato made sure his teachings were passed on.  Another example is the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison who stood on the Boston street corners passing out his paper of the liberator and talking against slavery.  He also was run out-of-town. But he continued to speak and publish his paper which soon got a following all over the United States. And my favorite the suffragettes who just stood  holding their banners on the streets demanding the right to vote.  However, it took almost 90 years and while most of the original protesters never got that right thankfully the generations to follow did. These people never gave up they stood up for what they thought was right and voiced what their opinion. Often trying to silence a person gives them more of a platform as other people notice and  begin to listen.

Someone told me when they heard Mr. Ottofaro had died that they knew there would be some people celebrating in Hampton City Hall. I found that to be a sad statement.  Some people may look back and say he lost. However, the results of his efforts I think prove them wrong.  His case is taught in some of our law schools a an example of how not to do eminent domain.  When the bill was being proposed for the constitutional amendment to protect private property one of the house defenders of the bill who is from Virginia Beach used his case as an example.  So Mr. Ottofaro opinion while ignored in Hampton was taken quite seriously by many outside of the area.

In the daily press letter to the editor one writer referred to Mr. Ottofaro as a man of principle and said in the end he had taught us all a lesson. He went on to say that Mr. Ottofaro’s motto was Winston Churchill’s “never , never, never give up.” I am very glad that I had the privilege of getting to meet this gentleman.

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6 thoughts on “Why we should be glad some people just don’t get over it

  1. Thanks for this and for all you do for the LWV. Mr Ottofaro sounds like a person whom I would admire, and I enjoyed your piece about him and his remarkable persistence. It deserves circulation, and I will share it with my own League chapter, the LWV of Hilton Head Island/Bluffton Area (SC).

    In our little corner of the world, where development has been fast, we have lost a number of citizen activists who insisted on respect for the environment and on regulations regarding building density, height and appearance. Commitment to those standards has diminished over time, and the slow economy has given cover to those who claim that the only thing that matters is tourism promotion. When you remind us of the efforts of those who have gone before, whatever principle they espoused, you do a great service.

  2. Thanks for the kind words. I have always loved the Hilton Head area as I thought it was one that seemed to have an overall goal of how they wanted their city to look. I am very sad that they are now disregarding what is important to the people that live there.

    I do know what you mean we have awful flooding up here and one reason is building in the wetlands that takes in water during the flooding. We have fill it in with dirt and built on those areas . Now when we flood the water still comes in it just floods the neighborhoods beside the new buildings and destroying peoples houses and neighborhoods. But just last night I went to the debate for the city of Hampton and one of the the candidates was for building in the wetlands because of financial reasons for the city.

    It very sad how in so many cities what is good for the residents of those cities doesn’t really matter any more.

  3. Thank you for this article on my dad. I am now picking up his sword and will be placing several videos that I had taken of Hampton officials stating that the road’s map which caused my father’s land to be taken from him under Eminent Domain was purposedly altered to take properties from those who did not want to sell it to the City of Hampton. It will be coming soon to You Tube, and your jaw will drop. Stay tuned….it is going to get interesting now. For my dad-I am Frank J. Ottofaro Jr.

    • Mr. Ottofaro, I was at the council meeting when you spoke. I think your dad would be very happy to know you have picked up his cause. It was also nice to hear all the nice things people had to say about your father. I have heard many people mention your father since he passed. It is suprising to me about how many people knew the situation and agreed it was wrong. I think what happen will be used as an example of what not to do by Hampton for a long time.

      I wish you, your sister and mother the best. I was very said to hear the night he died your dad tried to get out of the hospital bed to come to the council meeting and had to be restrained. It just shows how deteremined your father was about this. I will watch what happens.

  4. Thank you all for your nice comments about my dad. He did have his tangents he used to go off on once in a while when speaking, but his heart was always in the right place when it came to his friends, family, and supporters. It is sometimes hard for people to understand why he would have fought so long against the city, when all they did to him at these meetings was to ignore him, and to reduce the time for others to speak on their own concerns. He believed in the system, and knew that it was only a few people who did this aggressive act to him, and not the government as a whole. When money is used as the wedge between what is right and wrong, legal and illegal, people like my dad are going to fight for what they had worked for in their life, the opportunity to own and enjoy property. Our American history is built around independence, civil rights, and the right to own property. Wars were started and ended around property rights. People sometimes ask me what kept him going so long in this fight for over a decade? It was knowing deep down inside that he could not, and would not allow people like Mr. Wallace and others who think like him, to do this to others like himself. We all have this fire inside of us, and sometimes it triggers you to either fight, or to give up because you think that the system will always win. Everybody knows now what decision my father made, and it was to fight. I look forward to meeting all of you at the candidates forum with the League of Women Voters of Virginia. For my dad-Frank J. Ottofaro Jr.

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