By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
AKRON -- Two of the three candidates running for the 17th Congressional District seat squared off today in a low-key debate in which they appeared to be on the same page about many key issues.
Democrat Timothy J. Ryan of Niles and Republican Ann Womer Benjamin of Aurora said economic development and education are the main issues in this campaign.
A regional approach involving both ends of the new district -- Akron and Youngstown-Warren area -- is needed to improve the economy of the region, they said.
"This congressional district provides a unique opportunity for economic development because of the four universities in it," said Ryan, a state senator from Niles.
Womer Benjamin said the eastern end of the district can learn a lot from Akron, which has undergone a revitalization after experiencing major economic setbacks in the 1970s and '80s.
"Akron is doing very, very well after losing its economic base, and the other end of the district, Youngstown and Warren, is still struggling," she said.
Womer Benjamin, a state representative from Aurora, said she is encouraged by the cooperation involving the chambers of commerce of Akron and Youngstown-Warren.
Ryan and Womer Benjamin appeared today at a candidates forum at the University of Akron's Martin Center sponsored by the Summit County Mayors' Association. Candidates running in the 13th and 14th congressional districts also appeared.
Who was missing
One candidate who could not show up was James A. Traficant Jr., the former 17th District congressman, who is running as an independent for the seat.
Traficant is serving an eight-year prison sentence for bribery, racketeering and tax evasion.
The organization invited Traficant's campaign to send someone to give a statement on his behalf.
No one in Traficant's campaign responded to the offer.
Womer Benjamin and Ryan kept it civil today at the debate and did not challenge each other on their record or positions. The two stressed their ability to work with other elected officials and their willingness to do everything for their constituents.
They focused much of their attention on their support of higher education, saying it is the key to economic development.
But the two differed on whether it would be a good idea to reduce income taxes to stimulate economic growth.
"With the current budget deficit and the country at war, it's irresponsible to talk about another tax cut," Ryan said.
Womer Benjamin said she would consider an income tax reduction, but it would have to be weighed against the expense of homeland security.
She said the current tax situation in this country isn't fair because 10 percent of its citizens pay 80 percent of the federal income tax.
Ryan countered that the more money people make, the more responsibility they have to pay taxes.
Today's debate is the first of 12 scheduled between Ryan and Womer Benjamin.