17TH CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT Valley becomes a focus

The economic revitalization of the Mahoning Valley is a top priority for most of the congressional candidates.
YOUNGSTOWN -- Five Mahoning Valley candidates are challenging U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer of Akron in the May 7 Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional District seat.
The Valley candidates are: state Sen. Timothy Ryan of Niles, state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard, Atty. Maridee Costanzo of Warren, Joe Louis Teague of Youngstown and Bryan K. Taafe of Austintown. The winner would face state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora, the Republican nominee, and anyone who files as an independent candidate in the November general election.
A top priority for most of the Democratic candidates is the economic revitalization of the Mahoning Valley.
Sawyer, an eight-year incumbent, said the Valley must concentrate and build on its assets, including its medical facilities, Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport, the air base and Youngstown State University. Also, there is much undeveloped property in the Valley that should be targeted for development.
Sawyer said the successes that have occurred in Akron under his watch can be applied to the Mahoning Valley.
Ryan disagrees
The Akron success story has been overstated and the Valley needs someone from this area who understands its needs and concerns as its representative in Congress, Ryan said.
Ryan, who has 16 months of elected political experience compared with 26 years for Sawyer, said he wants to concentrate his efforts on developing a working relationship between the places of higher learning in the district and business incubators to keep young professionals in this area.
Costanzo, who has never run for political office before, said she wants to make the Valley a place where small companies and large corporations can flourish and she wants to expand research and development opportunities at universities in the congressional district.
Costanzo said she never had any intention of running for Congress but decided to do it after seeing the candidates who filed for the position.
Valley's image
Latell said he would work to improve the Valley's image, which, in turn, would attract businesses and people to the area. Latell plans to hire an economic development specialist for his congressional staff who would identify worthy projects and find the federal money to fund them. Also, Latell said his 26 years of political experience in city, county and state government will enable him to be a fast learner if he gets to Washington, D.C.
"I have the ability and the experience, and I know I can do a good job," he said. "I'm the best one to serve my constituents."
Teague, a retired laborer who has never held political office, said his years of experience with workers gives him a unique insight into their concerns. But his top priority, if elected, is to bring the U.S. Department of Justice into Youngstown to address the city's murder rate.
Taafe, a local businessman and a political newcomer, says his top priority is to improve education with computer literacy standards and accountability for educators.
New boundaries
The state Legislature changed the makeup of the 17th Congressional District, which takes effect next year. The current 17th includes Mahoning County and most of Columbiana and Trumbull counties. The new 17th includes most of Trumbull, the northeast portion of Mahoning, most of Portage County, and a portion of Summit County.
Despite initial grumblings from local officials about the redistricting changes that split the 17th District, most of the Democratic candidates say the new district provides an excellent opportunity for the Valley to grow.

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