Early in his political career, James A. Traficant Jr. let it be known that he did not intend to use his family, especially his wife and young daughter, as props in his election campaigns and, therefore, they would be off limits to the press. Traficant kept his word. It was a rare sight, indeed, to see his wife, Patricia (Tish), and his daughter, Elizabeth, on the stump with him. The only time they were by his side was on the night of Traficant's election victories, of which there were many. He served four years as Mahoning County sheriff and 17 years and 7 months as the congressman from the Mahoning Valley.
They kept out of sight, and the press left them alone.
Tish, a hairdresser by profession, held on to her job even after Traficant went to Washington. She was the antithesis of the congressional wife. She rarely went to Capitol Hill and certainly wasn't on anyone's social register.
Even during last month's ethics committee hearing, in which Traficant attempted to fend off a recommendation of expulsion from the House of Representatives, and his last stand on the floor of the House before his colleagues voted 420-1 to give him the boot, Tish Traficant was nowhere to be seen.
She certainly wasn't in federal court during the 10-week trial that culminated in her husband's conviction in April on several criminal charges, including racketeering, tax evasion and bribery, and wasn't in U.S. District Court in Cleveland earlier this month when Judge Lesley Brooks Wells sentenced the ex-congressman to eight years in the federal penitentiary and had him immediately carted off by U.S. marshals.
Not too long ago, after Traficant's conviction, Mrs. Traficant reminded this writer that she had kept her husband's public life separate from their private life and, therefore, was not willing to be interviewed.
Her request for privacy seemed reasonable.
But no more. Tish Traficant's appearance Aug. 21 on Fox News Channel's "On the Record" was her coming-out party of sorts. Not only was she given kid-glove treatment by host Greta Van Sustern, who earlier this year allowed Traficant to toss her around like a cat playing with a mouse, but she was permitted to use the show to pick up where the congressman-turned-federal prisoner had left off: Claiming his innocence and accusing the federal government of conducting a two-decades-long vendetta against him.
Mrs. Traficant's performance was so well scripted, she even used many of the same words her husband had spewed over the past year or so in his ridiculous attempt to portray himself as the victim of a grand conspiracy cooked up by the Justice Department.
This woman, who had never stepped foot in the federal courthouse in Cleveland during her husband's trial, cast aspersions on Judge Wells. Of course, the criticism was delivered in a kinder, gentler manner and stood in stark contrast to her husband's venomous braying. But the message was the same: The judge was part of the conspiracy.
It didn't stop there. Mrs. Traficant related the story of how her husband was placed in lock-down at the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood in White Deer, Pa., because he believed the kitchen duty to which he had been assigned should go to a single inmate who needs the $60 a month stipend.
Again the message was clear: Even behind bars, Jimbo is fighting for the little guy.
Tish Traficant's performance was worthy of a political campaign, which raises the question that she should now answer publicly: Are you considering replacing your husband on the November general election ballot, thereby running for the congressional seat in the reconfigured 17th District, should he decide to withdraw?
There are other questions Mrs. Traficant should answer, seeing as how she has become the ex-congressman's mouthpiece.
UHow did you come to own the house on Main Street in Poland in 1994? Documents show the total market value of the land and the structure to be $159,700, yet the purchase amount is listed as $32,100. Could you explain what took place?
UHow did your daughter become the owner of a 76.5-acre farm and about 60 acres of vacant land in Green Township in December 1999 for which she paid nothing? Is it a coincidence that the transaction took place around the time the federal government had subpoenaed your husband's records?
Tish Traficant will find out that the public spotlight can be very harsh.