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'They can't take away my spirit'



Published: Sun, August 25, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)




Poor Tim Ryan, he just can't seem to shake loose the Traficant monkey that has been on his back since he entered the race for Congress.

During the May primary election, Ryan, a Democratic state senator from Niles, was often asked about his relationship with James A. Traficant Jr., the former congressman-turned-federal prisoner. That's because he had worked as a congressional aide to Traficant from the summer of 1995 to 1997 and had talked about him in glowing terms.

Indeed, on April 22, in a meeting with Vindicator editors and writers, Ryan had this to say about the man who had served as the 17th District congressman since 1985, was convicted in April of this year on 10 federal criminal charges, and was sentenced to prison on July 30: "Being 21 years old and having the opportunity to work in Washington, D.C., I saw an extremely charismatic figure who was entertaining. He seemed passionate about helping move this country forward. From what I could see, it was all true."

As for Traficant's criminal activities -- federal prosecutors proved that he had used his public position for personal gain, including taking salary kickbacks from close aides -- Ryan said the experience was "terrible" and has been "horrific for the Valley."

"It perpetuates the reputation of the Valley," he told The Vindicator. "But it's over. He's going to be in prison."

But as Ryan found out last week, it isn't over. The Traficant monkey is still on his back.

High gear

On Tuesday, on the front page of the Local section (B section), there was a story headlined, "Ryan steps up election campaign." It talked about the Democratic nominee for the reconfigured 17th District seat shifting his election campaign into high gear after taking it somewhat easy since his victory in the May primary.

Unfortunately for Ryan, his contention that "We're starting to step it up," was lost in the buzz emanating from a page one story in Monday's Vindicator headlined, "Attorney says ex-lawmaker refuses to work in the kitchen."

"James A. Traficant Jr. has been placed in lock-down mode after refusing to work in the kitchen at his federal prison, says a lawyer who visited the ex-congressman," the story stated. It quoted Atty. Don L. Hanni Jr., who visited Traficant at the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood in White Deer, Pa., as saying that the expelled congressman believed the kitchen job, which pays about $60 a month, should have gone to one of the inmates on a waiting list who has no family and no money in his commissary account.

Hanni said that Traficant asked prison officials to assign him to a recreation facility, which pays about $5 a month.

And here's how the former chairman of the Mahoning County Democratic Party, who was once a political rival of the former congressman and sheriff of Mahoning County, characterized what Traficant had done in prison: "[He's] still looking out for the working guy."

Although he was expelled from the U.S. House of Representatives and although he is serving an eight-year sentence in the federal pen, Traficant will be on the November ballot as an independent candidate for the 17th District seat. In other words, he's competing with Ryan and Republican nominee Ann Womer Benjamin.

But the Traficant saga -- that's what it has become in the hands of a veteran politico -- doesn't end with his refusal to work. In lock-down, the Poland Democrat was placed in a two-bunk cell with two other inmates and has to sleep on a mat on the floor.

He has hair

Talk about the stuff of political campaigns. Hanni had two other tidbits that may well become part of Traficant's election bid: The federal inmate isn't bald (despite the fact that he has worn a hairpiece for as long as most voters can remember) and he isn't wilting.

Here's what Hanni recalled Traficant telling him: "They can take away my freedom but they can't take away my spirit."

Did Traficant intentionally create a situation whereby he would be placed in lock-down and, therefore, have a story to tell a visitor? No doubt about it.

Poor Timmy Ryan, overshadowed by a convicted felon.

There is only one way for him to get the Traficant monkey off his back: He should call a press conference and repudiate the former congressman with these words, "Mr. Traficant have you no shame? Do us, the honest people of the Mahoning Valley, a favor and get out of the race. I regret ever having worked for you."




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