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GOP foe gets the better of Dem Ryan



Published: Sun, September 15, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)




It should have been state Sen. Tim Ryan's finest hour. He was on his home turf. He was among friends. And the event was designed to put him in the spotlight. But a funny thing -- yes, it is funny -- happened to Ryan, the Democratic nominee for the 17th Congressional District seat, on his way to the Labor Day parade in Warren. He got "Womerized." It's the same thing that hit him three months ago.

What happened? Ann Womer Benjamin, that's what.

Womer Benjamin is the Republican nominee for the 17th District seat, and while she isn't from the Mahoning Valley and hasn't run in this region before, she has proven to be quite a formidable opponent of Ryan's. Indeed, her political instincts are helping her overcome the disadvantage she has of being a Republican in a predominantly Democratic congressional district.

Consider what took place recently. The Trumbull County Federation of Labor was having its Labor Day parade on Sept. 7 in Warren and had invited Womer Benjamin to participate. Of course, Ryan, the federation's endorsed candidate, was to be in the starring role.

But then the federation decided that it didn't want the Republican nominee to participate and told her she would not be permitted to march with the main body of the parade. She could be the tail, if she chose. The message was clear: You're not going to overshadow our boy, Timmy.

Red meat

Bad move. The day Womer Benjamin found out that she was being banned was the day she was a guest on the Dan Ryan radio talk show. The topic was red meat for the veteran host. The story line that emerged had reporters licking their chops: Big labor and its candidate for Congress are afraid of a female state representative from Aurora. And the more labor leaders tried to justify their decision, the less credible they became.

That's when Womer Benjamin's political instincts -- she has served in the Ohio House of Representatives for eight years, compared to Ryan's 20 months -- kicked in. Rather than leave town in defeat, she decided to show up in Warren on Sept. 7, and here's the headline that appeared on the front page of the Local Section in The Vindicator the next day: "Snubbed by parade, Benjamin holds rally."

And what did state Sen. Ryan, who two years ago wasn't a taxpayer because he didn't have a full-time job, have to say about the parade controversy? He said that he had not "paid too much attention" to what went on. He should have. Then he may have realized that by prohibiting the Republican candidate from participating in the parade, the federation of labor had forced a political showdown. Womer Benjamin took part in a rally along the parade route, attended by campaign workers and supporters carrying American flags. And in the gathering of about 40 were 10 members of United Steel Workers of America Local 3047 who lost their jobs when Cold Metal Products in Campbell closed in August.

"Ann's been helping us out," said local vice president John Burnich. "She wrote the president [Bush]. She's been working with us. She's showing concern."

A Republican state legislator writes a letter to the Republican president of the United States of America on behalf of workers in a predominantly Democratic region and suddenly her party label is seen as an advantage -- just as it was three months ago when she secured a $3 million gift for Youngstown State University. It was a gift that Ryan, in all his political lightweightedness, voted against.

It is important to recall that Ohio was facing a $1.7 billion budget deficit and the Republican-controlled General Assembly, along with Republican Gov. Bob Taft, were working on a plan to get rid of the red ink. Ryan joined his Democratic colleagues in refusing to support the bill.

Let's make a deal

Womer Benjamin, on the other hand, used her membership on the House Finance and Appropriations Committee and the Higher Education Subcommittee to let the leadership know that her vote for the budget-balancing measure would come at a price: $3 million to boost work force development, with Youngstown State as the recipient.

The message from Womer Benjamin's move was clear: It pays to be in the majority.

A similar message underlies her letter to President Bush: Being a Republican member of Congress with a popular Republican president in the White House will ensure that 17th Congressional District is on the administration's radar screen.

"Womerize" -- To be toyed with politically by Ann Womer Benjamin.

Ask Timmy Ryan.




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