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17TH DISTRICT Benjamin battles label as outsider



Published: Wed, September 18, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Republican candidate said some in Trumbull County are dwelling on the past.

By DAVID SKOLNICK

VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER

YOUNGSTOWN -- Ann Womer Benjamin, the Republican candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat, is struggling to make advances in Trumbull County.

The state representative from Aurora said she is trying to overcome the perception of those in the Mahoning Valley, particularly in Trumbull County, that because she is not from this area, she does not understand its problems and concerns.

"Being an outsider, particularly in Trumbull County, is a negative," she said. "I'm trying to turn it into a positive."

Womer Benjamin said people in Mahoning County are receptive to her candidacy, but it has been more difficult in Trumbull.

"The level of cynicism is higher in Warren than Youngstown," she said. "There is a spark of hope in Youngstown that I'm trying to kindle in Warren. There are people in Warren who are trying to do good things, but they're not quite as organized as in Youngstown. The Valley has just been mired in trouble and is having trouble getting out of it."

The reasons

Womer Benjamin said Trumbull County politicians, who are overwhelmingly Democratic, have ignored her. A meeting in Warren was canceled when elected officials refused to show up because she was going to be there, she said.

Part of the problem is partisan politics; part of it is that Timothy J. Ryan, her Democratic opponent, is from Niles and politicians in Trumbull County favor the hometown candidate, she said. Part of it is people in Trumbull are cautious of those from outside the county and some are still clinging to the past and refuse to move forward, she said.

"There is a sense of dwelling about the past," Womer Benjamin said during an interview Tuesday with Vindicator editors and writers. "It will be a challenge to bring people to the table. It will not be easy. There's a lot to deal with in the eastern part of the district. But my strength is to bring people together."

Womer Benjamin wants to serve as the Valley's champion in Congress.

"This area has not really had a champion," she said. "I see a lot of positives to build on if someone's willing to be a champion and focus on the positives instead of the negatives. People have expressed to me that they haven't had strong political leadership."

Criticism of Ryan

Womer Benjamin said she is running a positive campaign and did not want to take shots at Ryan or James A. Traficant Jr. of Poland, who is running for re-election as an independent from a federal prison cell.

But when pressed, she criticized both, particularly Ryan.

Regarding Traficant, Womer Benjamin said the portrayal by some that every politician takes kickbacks and the former congressman was no worse than other elected official is incorrect. She said she would have a lot more credibility in Washington, D.C., than Traficant.

She said Ryan refuses to follow simple campaign rules such as properly disclosing a $50,000 loan he received during the primary race -- which she categorized as "troubling" -- and putting a political disclaimer on his Web site.

Womer Benjamin also said Ryan, who has served in the state Senate for 19 months, is lacking in political experience. Womer Benjamin is a four-term state representative who has passed 19 bills during her nearly eight years in the Ohio House, more than any other legislator during that time period.

"If I had been in the Senate minority for 18 months, I would have much more of a record, and a positive one at that, than Tim has," she said. "He hasn't done anything other than vote 'no' against Republican initiatives, whether good or bad, and has voted with his party. He has not tried to find ways to have a positive impact for his district even though he's in the minority."

If Ryan is elected, Womer Benjamin said he will not be able to move the Valley forward because of his inexperience.

"It comes down to what each of us has to offer," she said. "A vote for Tim Ryan is a vote for much of the same that's been going on for the last decade. It's not forward looking."

skolnick@vindy.com




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