Let's not get all cranky over Youngstown's being included in last Sunday's season opener of the HBO hit series "The Sopranos." It could have been worse.
Paulie Walnuts, a made man in Tony Soprano's New Jersey Mafia family -- remember folks, it's make-believe -- could have been standing in a jail recreation room that was filthy, noisy and filled with inmates who looked like they had been fished out of the polluted Mahoning River. Instead, Paulie was seen talking on the phone in a brightly lit area that was airy, with inmates dressed in neat orange outfits.
Message: Youngstown (Mahoning County) has a nice, efficiently run jail that makes visitors feel right at home.
The character, played by actor Tony Sirico, who was in the Mahoning Valley two years ago for the filming of a Boom Boom Mancini movie, could have told New York underboss Johnny Sack, played by actor Vincent Curatola, that the cops were a bunch of incompetents. Instead, he talked about how he and a local mobster, Lenny Scortese, were on their way to Dean Martin's hometown of Steubenville when they were stopped by the police and their car searched. A gun was found, which turned out to have been used in a murder in Youngstown eight years ago. The murder hasn't been solved.
Message: The cops in the region are clean and don't care whether you're a mob boss.
Yes, it could have been worse if the show's writers had simply referred to the reams of federal documents that have been made public about organized crime and government corruption in the Mahoning Valley. Had they done so, the writers would have found that things are so bad in this region, even the local Mafia families are dysfunctional.
Case in point: In 1966, local mob boss, Lenine "Lenny" Strollo gave his blessing to have Paul Gains killed. Gains was the prosecutor-elect and Strollo wanted him out of the way so the mob could have someone they owned as the county's top lawyer. But in a move that would make any respectful Mafia don cringe, Strollo decided to go local in the hiring of the shooters. (Can any fan of "The Sopranos" imagine Tony Soprano picking a couple of black drug dealers to be part of a hit team?)
Thus, on Christmas Eve in 1996, one of the hit men followed Gains into his home in Boardman and shot him. The prosecutor-elect fell to the ground and the assassin stood over him to finish the job. He pulled the trigger -- and nothing happened. The gun jammed.
Just think if that story had been incorporated into last Sunday's episode of "The Sopranos." We certainly would have had reason to bow our heads in shame. Instead of the Dapper Don, we have as our mob boss the Dopey Don. Strollo, as the head of the Mafia in the Valley -- he took over when Joseph "Little Joey" Naples was gunned down in August 1991 -- has been downright disappointing. He has become a government snitch. (It's inconceivable that Tony Soprano or his "Uncle Junior," the godfather, would ever join forces with the government if they were nabbed. Indeed, Junior is scripted to be indicted by the feds in the not too distant future.)
But our godfather -- Lenny Strollo, that is -- who admitted under oath that he has been involved in criminal activity since he was a teenager and that murder is part of the Mafia's business, is now in federal custody, singing like a canary. In return for sharing his secrets about the La Cosa Nostra and for agreeing to testify in future mob-related cases, he is being treated like a kindly grandfather. The federal government has taken such pity on this poor soul, they have allowed Strollo's wife to continue living in their mansion in Canfield.
As for the HBO hit show, it's quite possible that today and over the next several Sundays, Youngstown won't fare as well as it did last week. Paulie Walnuts told Johnny Sack that he didn't know when he would be released from county jail. And seeing as how he has been one of the main characters, it's unlikely that he has been written out of this season's early episodes.
It is hard to believe that the show's writers, who obviously have a competent research team, would have Paulie leaving Youngstown without any reference being made to this region's most famous resident, congressman-turned-federal prisoner, James A. Traficant Jr.
After all, Traficant's political history, going back to his 1980 campaign for sheriff when he took money from the Mafia, has all the flavor and intrigue of a Soprano script.