About half of the Democrats asked are undecided about who will get their vote.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Despite the distinct possibility that Mahoning and Trumbull counties will not have one of their own representing them in Congress for the first time in about 150 years, several people in the two counties aren't very broken up about the possibility.
"There is a good chance that we may benefit as part of the redistricting," said Marie LaCivita of Liberty Township. "We will be in a larger populated area that will be available to industries to move into. There may be a larger force of constituents to sway federal and state monies into this part of the state."
Judy Lazar of Youngstown calls herself "one of the lucky people in the newly formed" district.
"It really doesn't matter to me that the size has changed," she said. "What does matter to me is how well our new district will be handled."
LaCivita and Lazar are among those who responded to questions about the 17th District as participants of The Vindicator's e-mail news contacts group.
The state Legislature earlier this year adopted new congressional district lines that divide the current 17th Congressional District, which represents most of the Mahoning Valley, and puts its remains into three separate districts. Northeast Mahoning and all but seven northern townships in Trumbull were put in a new 17th District with most of Portage County and a section of Summit County, including four of Akron's 10 wards.
"Although redistricting the 17th seems like an unfortunate turn of events, we'd better figure out how to make lemonade from lemons," said Betsy Johnquest of Youngstown. "This may be the best thing to happen to this Valley in a long time. From Akron to Poland, our demographics are similar. Maybe we could all unite together in an exciting economic development project."
But not everyone is pleased with the change. There are some who say it will severely harm the Valley.
Potential for neglect
"In looking at the areas in the new 17th District, I can't help thinking the smaller communities may be at risk for being neglected while Youngstown and Akron compete for the same dollars," said Kim Stewart of Austintown.
"I have a real problem with the redistricting," added Chris Wilson of Austintown. "I see all of Youngstown and part of Akron included in our new district, as well as some suburbs of each and the Warren area. This is an awfully large area with diverse needs, as well as large populations."
Some people who said they are happy to be in the new 17th District say the reason for their pleasure is the redistricting makes it difficult for U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant, the Mahoning Valley's controversial congressman and a convicted felon, to be re-elected.
"It was an embarrassment to be represented by Jim Traficant in the old 17th," said Dean Burns of Struthers. "Anyone new will go a long way to restoring some credibility to our area."
"I will be very happy to embrace the newly reorganized 17th District," said Donald Walsh Jr. of Poland. "Anything that will be a change from the misery we have been subjected to will be welcome."
Six candidates are running in the Democratic primary, including state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard and state Sen. Timothy Ryan of Niles. The only non-Valley Democratic candidate is U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer of Akron, an eight-term congressman considered the favorite by political experts to win the May 7 primary.
The other Democratic candidates are Maridee Costanzo of Warren, Joe Louis Teague of Youngstown and Bryan Taafe of Austintown.
State Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora is the lone Republican candidate.
While almost half of the news contacts say they are undecided about whom they will vote for in the Democratic primary, Sawyer leads the pack among those who have chosen a candidate.
That doesn't bode well for Latell and Ryan, who closely trail Sawyer as the preferred candidate in Mahoning and Trumbull. Latell and Ryan need to finish well ahead of Sawyer in Mahoning and Trumbull because Sawyer is expected to pull away from the pack in Portage and Summit, two counties he has represented for almost 16 years, according to political experts. None of the three other Democratic candidates got any votes from the news contacts.
Those who say they will vote for Sawyer admit they know little about the Akron congressman. But Sawyer has their support because they are not impressed with the local candidates and the congressman has a lot of Capitol Hill experience. Also, some of Latell's and Ryan's supporters say they think Sawyer will beat their candidate.
Ryan's supporters acknowledge their candidate's age, 28, and his lack of elected political experience, 16 months, could be drawbacks. But they also say his age and qualifications make him untainted and a fresh political face.
"Tim has the energy, education and proven ability to give this area the modern-day representation it badly needs," said George Senda of Niles. "The other candidates mentioned are either novices in the political arena or worn-out politicians, who have nothing to offer but their political names."
Latell's supporters point to his years of political experience at the local and state levels as to why they will vote for him.
"I think it will be nearly impossible to elect a congressman from our area," said Ed Wilhelm of Austintown. "I believe the only candidate from our area who could even come close to making a fair race would be Tony Latell. ... From what I read, he is well liked and has the style needed to compete in the general election."
Making a choice
The undecided voters say they will closely examine the candidate's qualifications during the time leading up to the May 7 primary.
"Some of the candidates running for office are 'life politicians;' that's all they have done is run for office," said M. Jean Pinkard of Cortland. "We need more servant leaders-community servants and fewer career politicians. Moral integrity is a plus too. As for now, I am going to weigh the platforms of each candidate and make an educated choice."