The former New York congressman said he worked with Jim Traficant to obtain money for the Youngstown convocation center.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
BOARDMAN --Rick Lazio, who lost the U.S. Senate race in New York last year to Hillary Clinton, told fellow Republicans they must do a better job getting out the message that they are the party of the people.
"A majority of Americans believe in the same principles as the Republican Party, but they do not know those are the party's core beliefs," said Lazio, a former eight-year U.S. representative, during his keynote address at Thursday's Mahoning County Republican Party's Lincoln Day Dinner at The Georgetown.
"The reality is a great number of Republicans believe the party must do a better job communicating the principles it believes in and what it stands for and distinguish itself from the other party," he said. "The Republican Party is about empowerment and working people, a strong national defense and taking a stand against dependency."
Defection issue: Lazio said the party's failure to get that message out was largely responsible for Vermont Sen. James M. Jeffords' leaving the party last week and becoming an independent. The move allowed Democrats to regain control of the U.S. Senate for the first time in eight years.
The Jeffords' departure "ought to be a wake-up call for Republicans," Lazio said.
Lazio entered last year's U.S. Senate race against Clinton about six months before Election Day after New York City Mayor Rudolph Guliani withdrew as the Republican nominee.
Lazio, who spent more than $39 million on his campaign, lost by a 55 percent to 43 percent vote against the former first lady in last year's most publicized Senate race.
Opinions on Traficant: During Lazio's four terms in Congress, he worked on a number of issues with indicted U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, D-17th, who represents most of the Mahoning Valley.
"The congressman has evolved to where he's voting more consistently with Republicans on a number of issues," Lazio told The Vindicator about Traficant. "He's a unique member of Congress."
Lazio, the former House assistant majority leader, said he worked closely with Traficant to obtain $25.8 million in federal dollars for Youngstown to build a proposed downtown convocation center.
"He made the case that Youngstown was struggling and this project would stimulate additional economic development in the area of job creation for a community that has never recovered from the slowdown of the steel industry," Lazio said.
Public sector funding: But Lazio said he is concerned that the majority of the money -- if not all of it -- for the project is coming from the public sector.
"The majority of the money for projects such as these has to always come from the private sector," he said. "The private sector needs to take the lead. In the end, the private sector money should be at risk and the public sector should be there to give some financial help."
Lazio, now chief executive officer of a New York company, has not ruled out returning to politics.
Clarence Smith, Mahoning GOP chairman, called Lazio "one of the Republican Party's future leaders."