Sawyer said he will not take Traficant lightly if they face each other in a congressional race.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer said the economic turnaround of Akron that he assisted in can be copied in the Mahoning Valley.
"There's no reason why it can't exist here," Sawyer, an Akron Democrat running for re-election to the 17th Congressional District, said Monday during an interview with The Vindicator. "It's difficult to do. It's difficult to sustain. It's harder here than Akron. For too long, the Mahoning Valley has viewed itself apart from the state and not part of a more complex economy."
When the bottom fell out of Akron's economy, there was a combined effort involving politicians, business leaders, educators and others to make improvements, Sawyer said. Akron business leaders opted to keep their companies in the city, alter how they did business, and work toward improving the economic climate there, something that did not happen when the steel industry collapsed in the Mahoning Valley during the 1970s, he said.
Working to get a level of cooperation among community and business leaders is the key to turning around a city's economic fortunes, Sawyer said.
Sawyer announced his intention Monday to run for the new 17th District, which beginning next year will include northeast Mahoning County, all but seven northern townships in Trumbull County, most of Portage County, and a portion of Summit County.
Wouldn't compromise: Sawyer was also considering running for a state position.
"I had an awful lot of people knocking down my door to run for statewide office," he said. "I thought seriously about running for governor last year and this year for treasurer and auditor. But you'd have to compromise your congressional voting record." By campaigning for a state office, "you violate your commitment to serve the people for the rest of your congressional term."
Sawyer, an eight-term incumbent, could find himself facing U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., a nine-term incumbent who is considering a run in the 17th District. Traficant, a Poland Democrat, is on trial in federal court on charges including bribery and conspiracy. Despite that, Sawyer is not taking Traficant lightly as a potential opponent.
"I'm not underestimating him," Sawyer said in a slow, deliberate tone. "A lot of people have made that mistake. The only thing I have to bring to this campaign is energy and campaigning and a reputation for vigor and integrity and an ability to build trust."
Mahoning and Trumbull counties, which Sawyer has never represented, make up 58 percent of the new congressional district's population.
"I'm not here to run a losing cause," Sawyer said. "I have every reason to believe this race is winnable for a Democrat in the mainstream. I believe I am that Democrat. It's true that Jim has a loyal following and he's earned that in a variety of ways. I don't pretend that this is an easy or simple undertaking."
No favorites: Sawyer said he understands the concerns of Valley residents that he would favor Akron over this area when it comes to obtaining federal money and projects.
"No one can effectively represent such an expansive district and not pay attention to the entire district," he said. "There's more growth potential here than over there. The concern about someone from outside the area representing it hits a responsive chord. But I have no intention of ignoring one part of the district over the other."
If re-elected, Sawyer said he will have a district office in the Valley.