A Republican state legislator from Aurora is running for the 17th Congressional District seat.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. will take the highly unusual step of shunning his political party and run for re-election as an independent.
Traficant, a nine-term congressman, opted not to run as a Democrat because his ongoing federal trial does not leave him enough time to campaign in the primary election for the post, said Bob Barlow, his campaign treasurer.
Traficant is devoting most of his time defending himself in federal court on charges including racketeering and bribery.
"This should be of no concern nor surprise," Barlow said reading from a prepared statement. "Congressman Traficant has always done what is right for the residents of the Mahoning Valley, not necessarily what is most politically expedient for the Democratic Party."
The filing deadline to run in the May 7 partisan primary is today. Traficant will avoid what looks to be a crowded Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional District seat and run as an independent in the Nov. 5 general election. The filing deadline for independent candidates is May 6, the day before the primary.
The Vindicator first disclosed earlier this month that Traficant was giving serious consideration to running as an independent.
Praises the move: Bill Binning, Youngstown State University political science department chairman, hailed the move by Traficant as solid political strategy.
"This extends his political life," he said. "It doesn't make any difference how he runs. His following will vote for him as an independent or a Democrat."
Traficant has been a vocal critic of the Democratic Party and often votes with Republicans in Congress. In January 2001 he crossed party lines and voted for Republican Dennis Hastert for speaker of the House. That vote resulted in punishment from Democratic leaders: Traficant did not receive a committee assignment. He is the only rank-and-file congressman without a committee assignment.
Before his May 2001 indictment, Traficant was wooed by Republicans to join their party, but he refused, saying he could not see himself leaving the Democratic Party, even though he was disappointed with the decisions of its leaders.
"The congressman has always been a Democrat and he'll remain true to the Democratic Party ideals of another era," Barlow said.
A longtime partisan congressman seeking re-election as an independent is "almost unheard of" and "extremely rare," Binning said. But much of what Traficant has done, including being an indicted congressman defending himself against corruption charges, is out of the ordinary.
Crowded field: Even with Traficant out, the Democratic primary is going to be crowded.
Already in the race are U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer of Akron, state Rep. Anthony A. Latell Jr. of Girard, state Sen. Timothy J. Ryan of Warren, and Bryan Taafe of Austintown. Taafe, who operates the Indoor Sports Arena in Boardman, is running for political office for the first time.
"I'm running to give the people in my local community and the district another choice for representation in Congress," Taafe said.
Also, state Rep. Ann Womer-Benjamin, an Aurora Republican, has thrown her hat into the ring.
"I look forward to giving the 17th District a new voice in Washington," said Womer-Benjamin, who has had 16 of her bills signed into law, the most of any current Ohio House member. "I will be aggressive and forthright in representing the interests of Akron, the Mahoning Valley and Portage County in Congress, as I have been in representing the people of my House district for the past seven years."
Withdrawal: John S. Keytack of Warren, who had filed as a Republican candidate, withdrew from the race today and endorsed Womer-Benjamin.
The 17th Congressional District includes northeast Mahoning County, all but seven northern townships in Trumbull County, most of Portage County, and a section of Summit County.
Another potential independent candidate is Youngstown Mayor George M. McKelvey.
Also, Maridee L. Costanzo, a Warren Democrat, is considering a run for the 17th District seat.
Former Youngstown Mayor Patrick Ungaro said he obtained nominating petitions for the 17th District, but he will not seek the post.