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Tim Ryan: Blind leading the blind



Published: Sun, September 29, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.

By Bertram de Souza (Contact)




Could it be his knowledge of workers' pensions and retirement benefits? After all, he does spew one-liners about how he empathizes with the thousands of Mahoning Valley retirees who are struggling to get what's owed them.

No, that can't be it. He's only had a full-time job for 20 months and probably hasn't even had a chance to meet with a financial adviser to discuss his own life after work.

Could it be his strong command of foreign policy? After all, he went to law school, but not to become a lawyer. Rather, he wanted to join the foreign service.

That can't be it, either. He never sat for the foreign service exam, and the extent of his world view amounts to six weeks in Italy while he was in college.

How about his vision for the Mahoning Valley? After all, he was born here and other than going away to college has spent most of his life in the region.

The only problem is that his involvement in the Valley and his contributions to the well-being of the area are minuscule, at best. That's because until he began his four-year term in the Ohio Senate in January 2001, the 29-year-old Niles resident had been a nonentity.

How then it is possible that Timothy J. Ryan is the choice of 52 percent of the respondents in a poll of the 17th District Congressional race? The poll of 500 likely voters, conducted Sept. 16-18, was commissioned by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Democrat

Ryan is the Democratic nominee and is facing Republican Ann Womer Benjamin, an eight-year member of the Ohio House, and ex-congressman and now federal inmate James A. Traficant Jr. in the November general election. Traficant, a registered Democrat who served 17 years and 7 months as the Valley's congressman before being booted out and then jailed, is running as an independent.

In the poll, Benjamin was chosen by 31 percent, Traficant by 10 percent, and 7 percent were undecided.

If qualifications were the criteria for holding public office, an objective analysis of all three candidates would have Womer Benjamin, of Aurora, winning with no difficulty.

Ryan's legislative record is inconsequential, while Traficant's conviction on 10 federal felony charges and his expulsion from the House make him nothing more than a crooked politician.

Yet, when polled, a majority of the likely voters picked Ryan.

Why? The most obvious reason has to do with the political composition of the region. With the 17th District consisting of Trumbull, a part of Mahoning, and portions of Portage and Summit counties, Democrats predominate. That means a Democratic candidate has a definite advantage.

Blind loyalty to the party candidate, a trait of Democratic voters in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, resulted in Traficant's not only serving in Congress since 1985, but also being re-elected two years ago after publicly acknowledging that he was the target of an federal criminal investigation and that he expected to be indicted.

Ryan is the beneficiary of this political myopia.

When presented with the opportunity to look beyond party labels and use the & quot;q & quot; word -- qualifications -- in judging a candidate's fitness for the office of U.S. representative, voters in this region remain true to form.

Even veteran politicos like state Rep. Daniel Sferra, the former mayor of Warren, are hard-pressed to say why Ryan's candidacy has struck a chord with the voters.

On-the-job training

In commenting about the Democratic nominee last week, Sferra offered a tortured defense of the candidate. It went something like this: Ryan is young, and so when he gets to Congress he will have many years to learn the job and gain seniority, which will then stand him in good stead.

Now that's the kind of recommendation any contender for a position that pays $150,000 would want.

Given that voters are willing to turn their backs on a candidate with strong credentials just because she's a Republican, it is proper to determine whether there is any justification for Ryan's front-runner status other that the fact that he has a "D" behind his name and that he's "a nice guy."

None jumps out.

Ryan, with his lack of qualifications, is tailor-made for this race.




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