The irony of this week's opening of the second federal building and U.S. courthouse in downtown Youngstown cannot be ignored. Its presence at the corner of E. Commerce Street and Wick Avenue is the result of one man's persistence -- a man who today is behind bars in a federal penitentiary as a result of his being found guilty of criminal charges in federal court.
Perhaps it's tacky to refer to former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.'s tragic end as an officeholder, but the fact of the matter is that when the building is formally dedicated next month, he won't be present. Traficant is serving an eight-year sentence in a prison in Pennsylvania after a jury found him guilty of numerous charges, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion. In a nutshell, the prosecution proved that he had used his public position for personal gain. His most egregious crime was requiring congressional employees to kickback a portion of their salaries to him.
Traficant defended himself in the trial. Prior to his sentence last month, he was expelled from the House, where he had represented the 17th District for 17 years and 7 months.
But with Traficant unable to attend the October dedication -- he was the man of the hour in 1995 when the first federal building and U.S. courthouse was dedicated -- we certainly hope that Ohio's two U.S. senators, Mike DeWine and George V. Voinovich, will be present.
These two Republicans were largely responsible for Democrat Traficant being able to get the funding for the building through the GOP-controlled Senate in 1999. By then, six years had passed since the Poland resident had secured $4.6 million in federal money for the purchase of the land and the design of the building. The General Services Administration, the federal government's real estate arm, ultimately bought the site for $800,000.
In 1997, additional funding was approved, but then the project stalled. When DeWine went to Washington after serving as lieutenant governor under Voinovich, he kept a campaign promise to the city of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley and began working with Traficant to get the project moving. But the Senate Public Works Committee refused to budge -- even ignoring the justification for a second federal building in Youngstown from the Judicial Conference of the United States and the GSA.
In 1999, however, Voinovich began his term in the U.S. Senate and was assigned to the public works committee. Like DeWine, he had pledged during his campaign that his efforts on behalf of the Mahoning Valley would continue and that he he would work to make the second federal building a reality.
The DeWine-Voinovich-Traficant combination proved to be effective. The $22 million project was ultimately given the green light.
The building, which houses the U.S. Bankruptcy Court and several federal agencies, opened for business on Monday. This architecturally intriguing and, yes, pleasing structure -- it was designed by the New York firm of Robert A.M. Stern -- has certainly enhanced the appearance of downtown.