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CONGRESS District to be chopped up



Published: Wed, January 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



Two of the congressmen who would add the Valley to their districts vow to give this area their attention.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- The Mahoning Valley's congressional district became a target for extinction because of the person representing the district, state legislators said.

State Republican leaders left with the difficult choice of eliminating one of the state's 19 congressional districts saw an easy way out.

Because of U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant's federal indictment that could force him out of office and his voting record of not siding with Democrats, his political party, getting rid of his district was the least-offensive option, according to state legislators.

"We had to lose a district somewhere, and the feeling is when the Democrats and the Republicans got in the room to see how the state would be served, Traficant didn't have a representative in the room," said state Rep. Timothy Grendell of Chesterland, R-68th.

"He had no one down here to defend him," added state Rep. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-57th.

Response: Charles Straub, Traficant's spokesman, said his boss was never asked to participate in the redistricting process.

"We would have had someone there if we were asked," he said. "This is the preferred choice of Ohio Democratic congressmen. They wanted to get rid of him."

Boccieri said he thinks the Republican plan was designed to specifically eliminate Traficant as a congressman but, in the process, it seriously damages the Mahoning Valley as a region.

"We're going to lose our identity," he said. "We're going to be with representatives who don't know this area. It's tragic that this has happened."

What's behind this: The state Legislature must redraw Ohio's congressional districts every 10 years based on population figures from the U.S. Census.

Ohio is losing one of its congressional districts because the state's population did not keep pace with the rest of the country.

Boccieri is shocked and disappointed that the Mahoning Valley's congressional district is being eliminated.

He might have spoken for many of those who feel the area will lose its identity with this move when he said, "We're getting screwed."

The congressional redistricting plan was expected to move quickly through the Ohio House and Senate and then be signed into law by Gov. Bob Taft.

The 17th District, represented by Traficant, of Poland, includes Mahoning County, all but 300 voters in Columbiana County, and Trumbull County except its western portion.

"It's about greed and the Republicans' controlling the state," said state Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown, D-33rd, about the redistricting plan.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature, which developed the redistricting plan, is not releasing a map of the proposal until at least late today.

Here's the plan: But state representatives who saw the plan -- Grendell, Boccieri, and Charles Blasdel of East Liverpool, R-3rd -- describe the redistricting plan's impact on the Valley as:

U The district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat, would get all of Columbiana County and most of Mahoning County, including the portion of Poland that Traficant calls home.

This district, which would also include Boardman and Canfield, includes all or portions of 12 counties along the Ohio River. Strickland lives more than 250 miles from Poland.

U The rest of Mahoning County, including Youngstown, Austintown, Struthers and Campbell, would be in a district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, an Akron Democrat.

The district also would include most of the lower portion of Trumbull County, including Warren, as well as the eastern edge of Akron and nearly all of Portage County. "They made a super Democratic district," Hagan said of the Republican plan.

U The upper portion of Trumbull County would be in a district currently represented by U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a Madison Republican, that would also include Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties as well as a sliver of the eastern portion of Cuyahoga County, the very top of Portage County and the northeastern section of Summit County.

The legislation on the congressional redistricting will get hearings Wednesday and Thursday from the Ohio House's State Government Committee and will be on the floor for a vote Tuesday, said Jennifer Detwiler, spokeswoman for Ohio Speaker of the House Larry Householder.

The legislation must be passed quickly so candidates can file nominating petitions by the Feb. 21 deadline for the May 7 primary.

The Republicans need Democratic help to pass the legislation as an emergency measure to ensure that it does not delay the May primary.

Don't expect a fight from Democrats, even those who are opposed to the redistricting plan, Hagan said.

The Valley's congressional district breakup could spell the end of Hagan's option of running for Congress. He lost to Traficant in the 2000 Democratic primary and was considering another run.

"I haven't ruled out running for Congress, but I'm leaning toward running for re-election" to the Senate, he said. "One-party rule is running this state. I'm so upset today. Maybe my battle is to represent the district in the Senate."

As for Columbiana County, Republicans there had hoped to get rid of Traficant and get a GOP congressman -- either U.S. Rep. Ralph Regula or U.S. Rep. Bob Ney, or even both -- to represent them. Instead, they got Strickland, a Democrat.

"I don't think it is good for Columbiana County or the Valley to have a representative who's never represented our area in any way," Blasdel said.

Comments: Strickland and LaTourette said they will do their best to represent the Mahoning Valley if the Republican plan is approved.

"The people [of the Valley] will get better representation because you have more representatives and they are members of both parties," LaTourette said.

"That enhances an area's representation. I'm really excited to represent Trumbull County."

Strickland said if the redistricting is approved and he is re-elected, he will move closer to the Valley, probably somewhere in the middle of his district, such as Marietta.

"I pledge to the people in Mahoning and Columbiana counties that I guarantee I will attend to their needs and be available to them," he said.

Dan Lucas, Sawyer's chief of staff, declined to comment on the redistricting, saying it was premature to discuss it.

skolnick@vindy.com




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