NILES No limit in sight for prodigy Ryan
The Democratic congressional candidate says he wants to work to unify the party.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
NILES -- Gov. Timothy J. Ryan?
Lt. Gov. Timothy J. Ryan?
Ohio Treasurer Timothy J. Ryan?
After his stunning victory over five other candidates -- including U.S. Rep. Thomas C. Sawyer, an eight-term congressman -- in Tuesday's Democratic primary for the 17th Congressional District, politicians and political experts say the sky's the limit for Ryan, who has held elected political office for barely 17 months.
Of the three possibilities listed above, Ryan, of Niles, was considered this year for the latter two.
State Sen. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown said his brother, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tim Hagan, considered Ryan as his running mate, but opted not to choose him because of his age. Ryan is 28.
There was a push among Democrats in Columbus to have Ryan run this year for state treasurer, said Senate Minority Leader Greg DiDonato, a New Philadelphia Democrat, and state Rep. John Boccieri, a New Middletown Democrat. Instead, Ryan opted to run for Congress.
Sawyer also rejected an offer this year from the state Democratic Party to run for Ohio treasurer.
Mary Boyle, the Democratic nominee for treasurer, is favored to beat incumbent Joseph T. Deters, a Republican, in the November election, according to a recent state poll.
"He [Ryan] has a political Midas touch," said Robert Hagan, who supported Sawyer in the primary.
"I think Tim can appeal to a lot of people, not just those in the Mahoning Valley. Tim's had a meteoric rise from law school to the state Senate. That is an incredible jump. Then from 11/2 years in the Senate to Congress is a phenomenal jump."
Boccieri said he and Ryan have discussed having the two of them run as a governor-lieutenant governor ticket.
"His phenomena is not restricted to the Mahoning Valley," Boccieri said.
Ryan said he is not looking past his November race for Congress, which will pit him against state Rep. Ann Womer Benjamin, a Republican, and two independents: labor leader Warren Davis and U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., Ryan's former mentor who is running despite a conviction last month on 10 felony counts including racketeering and bribery.
"My whole goal is to turn around the Valley, and that's going to be my focus until it becomes a reality," Ryan said. "I have no idea how long it will take, but it will definitely take five or 10 years to get it back to where we need to be. It won't be overnight."
Politicians and political experts point to Ryan's energy, enthusiasm and ability to attract young people to his campaign as reasons for his success.
"He puts an incredible amount of energy into his campaigns," said DiDonato, who helped Ryan's 2000 state Senate campaign and contributed to his congressional campaign.
"He's able to mobilize his friends and family to help him. He attracts people and gets them excited. He's fresh and he's full of energy. When people see Tim, there's a sense that there's new hope."
Ryan proved that the traditional way of campaigning done by Sawyer, which included hiring professional political consultants and seeking the support of established politicians, is outdated, Robert Hagan said.
"He had young people working for him out on the streets for his Senate campaign and he kept those people together for 11/2 years and added more of them and parlayed that into his congressional race," Hagan said.
"People saw him as having a desire to be their representative. He has some charisma. He has a good following and he's good with interpersonal relationships."
John Green, director of the University of Akron's Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, said many of his Akron students were impressed by Ryan during a campaign stop at the university.
Although Ryan has a promising political future ahead of him, he still needs more seasoning before he could run statewide, Green said, pointing to Ryan's weak showing in Portage and Summit counties during Tuesday's primary.
"He has a good start," Green said. "His appeal right now is to the Valley. He has to learn to appeal to others."
How he succeeded
Ryan said he has met with success because he is able to get across his concern for the Valley.
"Our message resonated and it all kind of jelled from there," he said.
If Ryan is elected to Congress, he realizes people in the Valley will have high expectations because he would be replacing Traficant, a nine-term incumbent, and Sawyer, an eight-term incumbent.
Although Ryan won without the endorsement of most Valley political leaders or without the endorsement of any of the district's newspapers, he said he does not hold a grudge against those entities.
"The whole political structure in the Mahoning Valley collapsed," he said. "It opened the door for young people. We have to start working together.
"I want to end the infighting so maybe I have to be the guy to extend the olive branch. We've been fighting for 25 years and nothing's happened. Let's try to get along."
Ryan also hopes his candidacy can be used as an inspiration for young people to get involved in the political process and run for office.
"Young people are starting to say, 'Hey, maybe we need to challenge the establishment a little bit,'" he said.
Influence on youth
Boccieri agreed, saying that other young people, such as himself, share the vision Ryan has of a better Mahoning Valley.
"There's no question his victory will encourage other young people to run for political office," he said.
But if anyone thought Ryan's overwhelming and stunning victory in the Democratic primary was going to scare off Traficant or Davis, they need to think again. Both candidates say they have no intention of pulling out.
Traficant was pleased with Ryan's victory and the two enjoy a special bond and a mutual respect, said Charles Straub, the congressman's spokesman.
Davis said Ryan's victory will only make him work harder.
"It might be a little bit more of a challenge," Davis said about facing Ryan instead of Sawyer.
"His win does not change my plans. I'm not comfortable with Ryan or the two other candidates. In my view, there is only one candidate who will serve working families and that's me."