The congressman is 'head over heels' more qualified to serve in Congress than any of his opponents, a state senator said.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- State Sen. Robert F. Hagan, who many political experts thought could give U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer his stiffest challenge in the 17th Congressional District race, is throwing his support behind the Akron Democrat.
Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, is endorsing Sawyer over five other Democrats in the congressional race. Sawyer is the only candidate in the May 7 primary not from the Mahoning Valley.
Even though Hagan has concerns about Sawyer's not being a Valley resident and the congressman's vote in favor of the North American Free Trade Agreement, the state senator said Sawyer is the most qualified candidate in the race.
"His labor record is perfect except on trade and you can't have everything," Hagan said today. "He's done a commendable job fighting for people. His labor record is bad on trade, but when I sat with Tom, he said he made a mistake and he'd never make that mistake again."
Hagan said he is endorsing Sawyer over local candidates -- including his colleagues, state Sen. Timothy J. Ryan of Niles and state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard -- because of the congressman's experience.
"I'm sticking with the Democratic incumbent and the others are not the incumbents," Hagan said. "I think they have a long way to go before they get to Sawyer. He is head over heels [more qualified then them] in seniority, knowledge and wisdom of the operations of the U.S. Congress. It's too important at this time for us to switch congressmen."
What changed: Earlier this year, Hagan was a candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat and was expected to give Sawyer his toughest fight in the May 7 primary. But after realizing the campaign was going to be too challenging, Hagan changed his mind and decided to seek re-election to the state Senate.
Hagan said he recently met with Sawyer, who gave him a number of commitments. Among them, Hagan said, is Sawyer will open district offices in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, and he will focus on the areas in the Valley that are in the greatest need of economic development.
"To me, that's a good enough commitment," Hagan said.
What's behind this: A statewide congressional redistricting effort breaks up the current 17th Congressional District, which represents most of the Valley, and places its remains in three separate districts.
The new 17th, which takes effect next year, includes northeast Mahoning County and Trumbull County, except seven northern townships, along with most of Portage County and a portion of Summit County. Sawyer currently represents most of Portage and Summit counties.
Hagan said Sawyer's eight terms in Congress puts him in a position to become a ranking Democratic member of important committees and subcommittees, something U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. cannot brag about even though he is a nine-term incumbent.
Traficant, who defeated Hagan in the 2000 Democratic primary, was stripped last year of his committee assignments after he crossed party lines and voted for a Republican for speaker of the House.
"I ran against a guy who squandered away 18 years of seniority and had a great opportunity to fight for this district," Hagan said. "Tom's years of seniority will be a value to our community."
Although Hagan and other top local Democrats are embracing Sawyer, his challengers are the ones picking up endorsements from local political organizations.
Ryan received the endorsement of the Niles Men's Democrat Club. Latell has the endorsement of the Trumbull County Democratic Party, and Maridee Costanzo of Warren was endorsed by the South County Democrats.