The congressman, who remained in Washington for a debate, delivered a message to his supporters at a fund-raiser.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
NILES -- It was billed as an evening with U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.
But those who paid $50 apiece had to settle for a prime rib dinner and a telephone call from the congressman, who was still in Washington, D.C., participating in the debate on the proposed $1.35 trillion tax-cut bill endorsed by President Bush.
During his phone call Friday, Traficant of Poland, D-17th, touched on his federal indictment on 10 felony counts including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.
"I've gone through a pretty tough time," he said. "I don't know what my future is. It's not going to be easy. I plan to fight this absolutely alone. Unless I literally die in that courtroom, I will fight those undefeated attorneys like a junkyard dog."
The congressman's indictment and absence did not keep the crowds away from McMenamy's banquet hall.
Robert Barlow, Traficant's campaign manager, had anticipated 300 people would come. About 320 were in attendance, raising $16,000 for the congressman, not including the 50-50 raffle. Based on previous Traficant campaign finance reports, the congressman's fund-raisers usually cost between $4,000 and $6,000.
Who was there: Among those in attendance Friday were Mahoning County Commissioner David Ludt, Trumbull County Commissioner James Tsagaris, Niles Mayor Ralph A. Infante Jr., Youngstown Councilmen Michael Rapovy and Rufus Hudson, Struthers Councilman Robert Carcelli, Wellsville Mayor Joseph LaScola, and Percy Squire, an independent candidate for Youngstown mayor and major Traficant contributor.
Traficant also took the time during his phone speech to plug his appearance next week on WKBN-AM radio's morning show. Earlier in the evening, Barlow asked those at the fund-raiser to call in when Traficant was on to show their support for him.
Protests outside WKBN are scheduled for Tuesday, Traficant's first day on the air. Also, the Good Government Task Force of ACTION -- Alliance for Congregational Transformation Influencing Our Neighborhoods -- has called on WKBN to cancel Traficant's appearance. Station management does not intend to honor the request. At least two companies have pulled their advertising from WKBN because of Traficant's air time.
Traficant portrayed himself during his speech as never being accepted by local politicians and having a 5-million-to-1 chance of winning his case.
"Half-truths have been blown up into felonies," he said, describing the charges against him.
Next step: Traficant said his next priority after Congress comes back in June from the Memorial Day break is to push through his proposed 15 percent flat sales tax bill.
"You'll hear a lot of ups and downs about it, a lot of negatives, but it's time for it," he said.
Traficant discussed the proposal, which failed to get out of House committee last year, during a speech he delivered earlier Friday on the House floor. He also criticized the U.S. Justice Department during that speech by claiming certain agents are corrupt.
Traficant, who has been at odds with fellow Democrats in Congress, had praise for them during the House speech.
"I appreciate some of the things done recently by the Democrats, including their involvement in school construction and education," Traficant said.