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Legacy won't be his work, many say



Published: Fri, July 26, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Despite James A. Traficant Jr.'s accomplishments for the Mahoning Valley in his 171/2 years in Congress, his legacy will be that he is one of five U.S. House members to be expelled, according to local and state politicians and his former staffers.

"Whatever good he did will be overshadowed by the day he was expelled for his behavior," said Lisa Antonini, Mahoning County Democratic chairwoman. "That's what people are going to remember."

Or as U.S. Rep. Sherrod Brown, a Lorain Democrat, put it: "Being expelled from Congress will be the lead of his obit."

Brown and U.S. Rep. Ted Strickland, who were among the 420 House members to vote for Traficant's expulsion, say they took no joy in casting their ballots.

'A bright man'

"There is sadness to this because he is a very bright man with great talent," said Strickland, a Lucasville Democrat. "His constituents deeply cared for him, and he could have been in Congress until the day he died. Unfortunately, he'll likely be remembered for his expulsion rather than any good he's accomplished."

Others were more blunt.

"Fortunately, Jim Traficant's days of being the congressional court jester are over," said Ohio Republican Chairman Bob Bennett. "It's time somebody beamed him up already. He's a convicted criminal; he has betrayed the public trust, and I commend the members of the House for taking this bold action."

State Sen. Robert F. Hagan, who lost the 2000 Democratic congressional primary to Traficant, said the expulsion brought great embarrassment to the Valley.

"Jim Traficant always had that aura of corruption and suspicion," Hagan said. "It was always there. The legacy of Jim fighting for working people and seniors won't be erased, but he'll be remembered for being expelled and his checkered past."

Like Richard Nixon, who resigned the presidency in disgrace, Traficant will be remembered years from now for the low point in his political career, Hagan said.

Worked to get grants

Forgotten will be the millions of federal dollars Traficant brought to the Valley for a convocation center, the Air Reserve Station and the Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport in Vienna, two federal courthouses and numerous road and bridge projects, local politicians say.

David Ditzler, a former Mahoning Democratic chairman who has criticized Traficant in the past, said the community will not rejoice over his expulsion, but it was long overdue.

"We're disappointed in him, and he should be disappointed in himself," he said. "He'll be remembered as the ringmaster of a circus."

U.S. Rep. Steven C. LaTourette, a Madison Republican and close Traficant friend who made an impassioned speech on the House floor to delay the expulsion vote until Sept. 4, said he was left with no other choice but to expel Traficant after his motion to postpone the vote failed.

Overwhelming evidence

"When they rejected my motion, I was left with 6,000 pages of transcript" from Traficant's federal corruption trial, LaTourette said. "He is a man who desperately cared about the Mahoning Valley, but was maybe a throwback to the '60s and '70s."

By that, LaTourette means some politicians back then were not aware of political correctness and didn't think it was wrong to trade their political influence for favors.

"The lines are not clear to him," LaTourette said. "When he says he didn't do anything wrong, he believes it."

George Buccella and Jackie Bobby, two of Traficant's former longtime staffers who testified against him at his federal corruption trial, said Wednesday was a sad day for the Mahoning Valley.

"Hopefully, we can move on," Bobby said. "It's a bad reflection on us. I hope we can get over it and move forward."

Buccella, who admitted during the trial that he spent time working on Traficant's farm while on the federal time clock, said he used to be close to the former congressman and he has mixed feelings about the expulsion.

Buccella said he did not want to testify against Traficant but was not going to lie to save his former boss.

Since the trial, Traficant has made public comments about Buccella's involvement in what the former congressman said was a DUI case fixing. "I'm hurt and disappointed by the comments," Buccella said.

Re-election?

Buccella said spending 15 years on Traficant's staff leads him to believe that the former congressman has a legitimate shot of being re-elected as an independent in the November general election, even from a jail cell.

"He's very popular, and he knows how to talk to people," Buccella said. "He can communicate with anyone on any level."

Mark Belinky, president of the Democrats of the 17th District political organization and a former Traficant supporter, said the ex-congressman will be remembered as a controversial figure.

"The expulsion reflects poorly on our community," he said. "I hope we can put this episode behind us and move forward."

Two people looking to replace Traficant in Congress -- Democrat Timothy J. Ryan and Republican Ann Womer Benjamin -- hope the expulsion can bring a new start to the Mahoning Valley.

"It's time to move on after a very difficult time," Womer Benjamin said. "He made his mark as a fighter for the little guy, and he made an impression that will last for years. But in the narrow view of history, he'll be known as one of two congressman expelled since the Civil War."

Ryan said that although the Valley has been "through a lot in the last year and half ... I believe the future of this community is brighter than its recent past."

Before the House session, the Rev. Werner Lange, a longtime Traficant supporter, held a rally outside the federal courthouse in Youngstown to urge Congress not to expel Traficant. The rally attracted as many, or more, reporters than Traficant supporters.

"The people of this Valley sent him to Congress, and the people of this Valley should be the only ones who can remove him," Lange said.

Traficant is to be sentenced Tuesday in Cleveland by U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells.

In an order filed Wednesday, the judge denied three motions filed by Traficant that sought to dismiss his indictment. The judge said the congressman's motions, filed two months after his conviction, are untimely and he demonstrated no reason why they could not have been filed before his trial began Feb. 5, as required by law.

The judge issued another order that permits Traficant to continue to represent himself in matters not related to his appeal or sentencing. In those matters, the congressman is represented by lawyers.




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