A member of the America First Party's national committee is running the former congressman's election campaign.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- James A. Traficant Jr. is sitting in a federal prison cell in Pennsylvania, but his congressional election campaign is under way.
Traficant, the former nine-term congressman who is running as an independent for the 17th Congressional District seat, is opening two campaign offices and has appointed Jim Bunosky of Austintown as his campaign manager.
Bunosky, a substitute teacher, said he is a longtime Traficant supporter who was asked a week ago to run the former congressman's campaign. Bunosky has limited political experience, working as a volunteer on Paul Gains' Mahoning County prosecutor campaign in 1996 and unsuccessfully running in the 1970s for a seat on Youngstown City Council.
Bunosky is a member of the America First Party's national committee. The political party, which is not recognized in Ohio, had invited Traficant to deliver the keynote speech at its national convention last month in Florida.
Traficant was sent to prison before the convention, so he taped the address before his incarceration.
The America First Party pushes an isolationist philosophy, supporting policies to strengthen the nation's borders, opposing the North American Free Trade Agreement, reducing the federal government, and advocating a "buy American" policy -- all of which Traficant supported for years.
Traficant, of Poland, is serving an eight-year sentence in a federal prison, convicted of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.
Also, Traficant is opening campaign offices in Ravenna and Girard. The Ravenna office is next door to the campaign headquarters of Ann Womer Benjamin, the Republican candidate in the 17th District race.
It is not known how much rent is being charged to Traficant's campaign, which took in only $3,235 during the first six months of the year and has had much trouble raising money during the past two years.
Traficant's most recent filing report shows the former congressman has $33,745 in his campaign war chest compared with $77,306 for Democrat Timothy J. Ryan and $40,838 for Womer Benjamin.
Robert W. Barlow, Traficant's campaign treasurer since 1998, resigned from the position. Barlow, a 17th District congressional staffer, did so at the request of John Walker Culbertson, who was hand-picked by Traficant to run the congressional office shortly before Traficant was expelled in July by the U.S. House.
Taking Barlow's place as Traficant's campaign treasurer is Robert E. Barrett of Youngstown, a retired pipefitter who has known the ex-congressman for more than 30 years.
Barrett said he was in charge of placing yard signs for Traficant during his past few congressional campaigns. Barrett said he took over the campaign treasurer's position at Traficant's request.
"I don't disown my friends like some people do," Barrett said about why he agreed to handle the convicted felon's campaign finances. "I have a lot of friends, and I don't hang around with anybody who's perfect. Just because somebody gets in trouble, everyone disowns him."
Barrett said Traficant has always been a friend to him and his family, specifically mentioning that the former congressman visited his mother on her death bed.
Barrett has no prior congressional campaign finance experience, but he is not worried about having any problems with Traficant's books and being in compliance with federal election laws.
There is some confusion in Traficant's camp as to participation in the 12 scheduled debates among the 17th District candidates.
Bunosky said there are no plans to have someone stand in for Traficant, but the campaign is not ruling out that possibility.
"There's only one Jim Traficant," Bunosky said.
Dean Caputo, Traficant's spokesman, said the campaign is planning to have someone at each of the debates representing the former congressman.
Also, an organizer of the Oct. 17 debate at the Jewish Community Center in Youngstown said Traficant's campaign would have a stand-in speaking on the former congressman's behalf at the event.
Womer Benjamin of Aurora and Ryan of Niles will participate in the debates. The first one is set for 8 a.m. Monday at the University of Akron's Martin Center.