By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Depending on the political climate in Washington, D.C., U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. may not be seen for a while on Capitol Hill.
Traficant has no plans to resign, and is insisting he will seek re-election as an independent candidate. Traficant supporters are collecting signatures on nominating petitions to get him on the ballot as an independent.
But he is considering not going back to Washington, said Charles Straub, a spokesman for Traficant based in Washington.
"We're going to try to advise him from this end on what the House is saying relative to his legislative duties," Straub said. "If they're going to take the stance that they're going to try to prohibit him from voting and speaking on the floor, he'll probably be better serving the constituents from Ohio, if that's the case, rather than wasting his time traveling."
If Traficant is permitted to vote and speak on the House floor, he wants to go back, Straub said. House rules say congressmen convicted of felonies should refrain from voting.
Traficant will probably make a decision Monday as to whether he will return to Washington this week, Straub said. The House resumes its session Tuesday.
Ready to lend a hand: If Traficant is no longer a member of Congress or the body restricts his voting rights, two Ohio congressmen seeking to represent the Mahoning Valley said this area can count on them for assistance on Capitol Hill.
"If my office can be helpful in any way, we will be helpful," said U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat. "I want to be sensitive to Mr. Traficant's staff members. But the circumstances justify a little deeper commitment and involvement on my part."
Those circumstances are Traficant, a Poland Democrat, was found guilty by a federal jury of 10 felony counts, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion, and the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct launched an investigation of the congressman only minutes after the verdict was read.
The committee could recommend Traficant be expelled from Congress, which would require a two-thirds majority vote of the House of Representatives. The House has expelled only four members in its history, and only one since the Civil War.
Congress could take other measures including censure or deny and/or limit his rights and privileges. If any of those actions are taken, it will eliminate the Valley's voice in Congress.
But that voice has been silent for the past two months as Traficant has not attended House sessions since his trial began Feb. 5.
Strickland said Valley politicians have contacted him seeking his assistance in Traficant's absence and he will continue to do what he can to help the area. Strickland has written letters seeking grant money for the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, submitted a request for money for the intermodal facility in Wellsville, and has offered his assistance on other projects in the Valley.
Strickland is running in the new 6th Congressional District, which takes effect next year and includes Columbiana County and Mahoning County, except its northeast portion. Traficant currently represents those areas.
U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, an Akron Democrat running in the 17th Congressional District, said he also has been contacted by Valley officials seeking his help. The 17th District includes portions of Trumbull and Mahoning counties and is the seat Traficant plans to seek as an independent.
"Ted and I are not eager to do this, not because we don't want to help but because of congressional courtesy," Sawyer said. "But if those making requests can't or won't contact Jim or he can't help them, they can come to us. When people are left unrepresented, you don't want to leave them out in the cold. You want to give help."
If Traficant does not or cannot properly represent the Valley on Capitol Hill, Straub said he would have no problem with Strickland or Sawyer or anyone else offering assistance to this area.
"I want to make sure the area is represented," Straub said.
If Traficant resigns or is expelled, his staff is permitted to remain until a new congressman is chosen, said Jim Forbes, spokesman for the House Administration Committee and the Clerk of the House. Forbes had previously incorrectly stated that only a handful of Traficant's receptionists would be retained and the rest of the staff let go.
Hagan's stance: State Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, who unsuccessfully challenged Traficant in the 2000 congressional race, said it is imperative that Sawyer and Strickland make sure the Valley does not go unrepresented in Congress.
"Representation is important and that was apparent when Traficant wasn't there the past two months," he said. "We need to have people like Sawyer and Strickland come to our aid and help us. The people in office have to say that we can rely on them. It's incumbent on them to step up and represent us. God, I hope they do that."
Hagan acknowledges that any assistance offered to the Valley by Sawyer and Strickland would also benefit the two candidates, who, because of state redistricting, will be seeking congressional seats that include the Valley in their new districts.
"It gives them a chance to show us what they can do," said Hagan, who is supporting Sawyer's candidacy.
Also, because of Traficant's problems, it is time for the Valley's state legislative delegation to step up its efforts to do all it can to help the area, Hagan said.
Mark Belinky, president of the Democrats of the 17th District political group, said area leaders should not seek the assistance of Strickland or Sawyer until after the November general election.
"I don't think it's appropriate for them to represent us now; they should wait," Belinky said.
"If Traficant still has his seat, his staff can do the job they continue to do. Traficant's been pretty ineffective since the indictment and we haven't been well represented during that time. But I'd rather the district not be represented rather than having opportunists from the outside coming in wanting to represent us."