Lest the nation think that all Mahoning Valley residents are either brain dead or have taken leave of their senses, we would like to offer the following statement on behalf of the thoughtful people of this region: Congressman James A. Traficant Jr. isn't speaking for us when he contends that the FBI made the Valley a whorehouse and that the Mafia is a myth.
The only myth is the one being perpetuated by Traficant and his ilk, mostly corrupt politicians, who have been willing to become whores for the mob. Decent people do not know Mafia types, let alone attempt to downplay their corrupting influence. And decent, law-abiding people do not shrug their shoulders and say that Mafia bosses Vincenzo Prato, Charles and Orland Carabbia, Lenine Strollo and Joseph N. Naples "were just businessmen."
Traficant, by virtue of being a member of Congress, is a newsmaker. When he speaks, people listen. And people who don't know him, don't know of his connections to organized crime, don't know of his penchant for portraying the good guys as the bad guys, hear him and are swayed by his rhetorical skill. They shouldn't be.
Steel mills: To be sure, all Valley residents past and present bear responsibility for the Mafia's long presence in this region. When the steel mills were operating full blast and the economy was humming, community leaders viewed the mob as nothing more than an irritant. "As long as they kill each other, what do we care?" was the attitude of day. Because jobs in the private sector were plentiful, government didn't really matter, and so for the mobsters it was open season for corrupting county sheriffs, city mayors and other elected officials.
But then the steel industry in the Valley collapsed, and thousands of jobs were lost. Suddenly government took on new importance. Elective office became the source of employment for many who had no skills or could not make it in the private sector. These are the individuals who were corrupted with mob money.
In the last year alone, 70 or so public officials and other Mahoning County residents have been convicted of or have pleaded guilty to government corruption and organized crime activities. Those successful prosecutions illustrate the sheer stupidity of Traficant's comment.
"Youngstown has taken a very bad rap," the congressman said during Thursday's segment of the "Ryan Show." "Quite frankly," he said, "I blame the press for perpetuating the myth of mobsters in Youngstown."
Government witness: So, Mr. Traficant, what is Strollo, a ghost? Strollo, who took over the local Mafia after the gangland-style slaying of Naples, has pleaded guilty to racketeering and is behind bars awaiting sentencing. He has become the government's chief witness and has been providing details about the Mafia's stranglehold on this region.
We have become used to Traficant's making a fool of himself on the floor of the House, on talk radio, or even on national television.
But we can't keep quiet when the congressman tries to excuse his own indiscretions by tarring the whole community with his brush.