Those living in the rural parts of the new 6th Congressional District fear the Youngstown area will get all the attention.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
Columbiana County and Mahoning County suburbs of the 6th District, please meet your new congressional neighbors.
U The sprawling industrial plants along state Route 7 that fill the skies above Jefferson and Belmont counties with smoke.
U The rural counties of Meigs and Monroe, among the least-populated counties in Ohio. More people live in Boardman Township than in the two counties combined.
UThe liberal college town of Athens, the home of Ohio University.
U And dozens of tiny communities along the magnificent and powerful Ohio River that drives industry in county after county along the eastern border of the state, separating Ohio from West Virginia and Kentucky.
Welcome to the new 6th District, a long drive from the tip of the village of Poland in Mahoning County, the hometown of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., to the bottom of Lucasville in Scioto County, the hometown of U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland.
A lot of miles: To make an appearance in each of the new congressional district's 12 counties, you would have to put more than 350 miles on your vehicle. Some joke that it is easier and quicker to take a boat along the river district than to drive the area in a car.
Many people in Columbiana and Mahoning counties joining the 6th District have never been to their new sister communities such as Caldwell, Woodsfield and Ironton.
With the exception of Poland Township and most of Austintown, all Mahoning County suburbs are in the district.
Sean Cremeans, an Ironton barber, said he couldn't point to Youngstown's suburbs on a map.
"I couldn't even tell you where they are," he said.
One person who has lived at the top and bottom of the new district had this viewpoint:
"It's quieter here, and there's less crime," said Jason Stoneroad, who moved back home to Ironton in Lawrence County after living in Austintown for about 18 months. "The attitude is different. It's a little friendlier down here."
Stoneroad said the large district is going to make it impossible for a congressman to properly represent every area, and because Mahoning and Columbiana are the largest counties in the new district, they will get the lion's share of attention.
Development: Although there are unique needs in each community in the new district, most people are interested in one thing: economic development, whether it be steel mills in Steubenville or an interstate connecting Meigs and Athens counties that could bring more people to that area.
"The main concern is, I don't want to leave here to get a higher-paying job," said Jacky Owens of Gallipolis, manager of the Good News Bible Store. "We need industrial plants and no more fast-food restaurants.
"Many people I went to high school with have moved on," Owens said.
Also, many of them fear their specific concerns about the economic future of their community will be ignored because whoever serves as the district's representative in Congress will simply have too much on their plate.
"It was bad enough as it was with our current district being so large, and now we're being combined into an area with more places," said Brian Wilson of Lucasville, who recently lost his job at the Uranium Enrichment Plant in nearby Pike County.
An afterthought? Ed Howard, Lucasville's postmaster, said he is concerned that this tiny rural community will be an afterthought to the district's congressman even if Strickland, whom he praised, is re-elected.
"We're afraid we'll get lost in the shuffle when they increase the district and put us in one with places around Youngstown," Howard said. "The size of the district doesn't make any common sense."
Despite the best efforts of Mahoning Valley business and political leaders to shake this area's perception as a mob town, that is exactly what many people think of when asked about Youngstown.
Susan Boyd, an administrator at Ohio University, understands the perception problem.
"It's like Athens; there's more than students rioting in the streets here," she said.
"It's as different as day and night," said Noel McFarland, who owns a one-chair barbershop in Caldwell, when asked to compare the Youngstown suburbs and his small Noble County hometown. "We're real slow down here, and they move fast up there in that Mafia town."
"Just keep the Mafia out," was the comment of John Walter, who operates the Old Tool Shop in Marietta.
Walter, who moved 12 years ago from Akron, said life along the Ohio River is much more laid back and relaxed than it is in Mahoning County.
'Values': "Washington County is removed from the rest of the world; it's the hills, it's Appalachia," he said. "We still have old-fashioned values here."
Robert L. Ward, business manager for United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 168 in Marietta, said his town is "a tad more vibrant because of the steel industry" than the Youngstown area.
"We're rural, small, a lot of farming, but we have industry along the river," Ward said. "There aren't too many similarities between the two areas."
Monroe County: Life in Monroe County, the state's fourth smallest county with a population of 15,180, also is very quiet, said Martha Ackerman of Woodsfield, a reporter for the weekly Monroe County Beacon newspaper.
Among the biggest concerns in the rural county is that one of its three high schools, Monroe Central High, is not housed in a building, but in two trailers with portable bathrooms, Ackerman said.
"The county is living paycheck to paycheck; a congressman can't help us with the problems we have," she said. "There's not a whole lot of jobs here or opportunities for our young people. The coal mines are gone. My son has to drive an hour-and-a-half to West Virginia to work."
Each county has its center: the downtown of its county seat. Cars, mostly parked diagonally and in front of parking meters, fill the streets. The downtowns are usually bustling with activity most days.
The residents of the counties also appear to be fiercely loyal to their congressman, whether it be Strickland in Athens, Washington, Meigs, Gallia, Lawrence and Scioto counties or U.S. Rep. Bob Ney in Jefferson, Belmont, Monroe and Noble counties. Those in Ney Country are sorry he will no longer serve as their congressman after this year, but many are willing to give others, particularly Strickland, a chance.
"Ney is the No. 1 man down the river," said Mike Falbo of Steuben-ville, a retired Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel worker. "He helped the union out a lot. He is a good man."
"Ney was popular around here," added Roger Lanaghan, a retired Steubenville police officer. "He was sincere with helping the steel mills. Time will tell on Strickland. I would definitely vote for Ney if I could. Strickland will have to prove himself."
It's especially hard for those in Martins Ferry to lose Ney because he lives only a short distance from the community and in the same county. Those residents will not have the same luxury with their new congressman.
"You work hard to develop a relationship with our elected officials, and then it leads to this," said Yvonne Myers, Martins Ferry Public Library's director. "I've never heard of Strickland before this. We don't understand why they redistricted this way. We had a representative who was from here and understands rust belt and steel."
But Danielle Reginger of Martins Ferry, a mother of four, said the location of her congressman makes no difference to her.
"Our president doesn't live in Belmont County, and he's helping this area," she said. "Maybe it works to our benefit because whoever is elected will feel they have to pay more attention to us because he doesn't live here and has to prove himself."
Those living in Strickland's district say the counties that will be added to his territory will be pleasantly surprised by how much the congressman cares about his constituents.
"Not that I necessarily agree with everything he says, but Ted works for the best interests of southern Ohio," said Sonny Gloeckner of Pomeroy, owner of Gloeckner's Cafe, which has been in his family for 115 years.
"I've seen him here a lot. He spends time in Meigs County. Ted's going to have his hands full with the new district. But he's capable of doing it. He's visible in every place he represents, and I'm saying this as a registered Republican."