Valley gets taste of things to come
Last week's dedication of the new Federal Building and United States Courthouse showed just how inconsequential state Sen. Timothy J. Ryan will be if he is elected to represent the 17th District in Congress. Not only was Ryan, the Democratic nominee, not present for the outdoor event, he wasn't even mentioned by any of the speakers.
On the other hand, Republican Ann Womer Benjamin had a front-row seat, was introduced to the gathering and after the ceremonies was touted to reporters by U.S. Sen. George V. Voinovich, a Republican who enjoys strong support in the predominantly Democratic Mahoning Valley. Voinovich, who served two terms as Ohio's governor before going to Washington, is expected to make a television commercial endorsing Womer Benjamin.
But if that bit of partisan politicking doesn't suggest to you that Democrat Ryan will be largely ignored in the GOP controlled House of Representative and in the White House, where Republican President George W. Bush has a national approval rating of 70 percent, consider this: Federal jailbird James A. Traficant Jr. was mentioned not once, not twice, but several times during the courthouse dedication ceremonies -- and the comments were all complimentary.
Traficant, who is serving an eight-year prison sentence in a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania, is running as an independent for the 17th District seat. Traficant was expelled from the House after he was convicted in April in U.S. District Court in Cleveland on 10 criminal charges, including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. He was sentenced July 30 and is now in the Federal Correctional Institution at Allenwood in White Deer, Pa.
Why would Voinovich, U.S. Bankruptcy Judge William Bodoh and even Stephen A. Perry, administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, say nice things about a man who used his public position for personal gain and went so far as to take salary kickbacks from his congressional staff members? Because Traficant was singularly responsible for the new federal building's being in Youngstown.
The idea of a city with barely more than 80,000 residents having one federal courthouse -- it's on Market Street across from the Mahoning County Courthouse -- is hard enough to accept. Having two is unfathomable. Yet, Traficant, a Democrat from Poland, was able to use his influence and connections with the Republican majority in the House to reach deep into Congress' pork barrel.
But Traficant wasn't just acknowledged in the speeches during Tuesday's dedication. A truck with a trailer carrying a huge sign that read, "Vote Traficant. In your heart you know he is right," made several passes around the new building, reminding attendees that the former congressman will not go away quietly.
As was noted in this space on Oct. 12, Traficant can't win the general election, but he certainly can hurt Ryan because they're both going after the hard-core Democratic voters. As for the rest, they're up for grabs -- and a Republican can corral a large number of those votes, as Voinovich showed in 1998 when he ran for the Senate.
It was, therefore, no coincidence that Womer Benjamin was present at the dedication of the building, which is to be named after retired Judge Nathaniel Jones, a Youngstown native who served on the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati.
The fact that a Republican senator is responsible for a black judge from Youngstown being the recipient of such an honor will certainly not be lost on the city's black voters who could play a crucial role in next month's congressional race.
But Ryan's inconsequence wasn't just spotlighted at the dedication of the courthouse. On Wednesday, one of President Bush's closest friends on Capitol Hill, Rep. Rob Portman of Cincinnati, joined Womer Benjamin in the Valley. Portman, senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee and chairman of the Elected Republican Leadership, made it clear that the 17th District will certainly be on the White House's radar screen if Womer Benjamin is elected.
The congressman from Cincinnati insisted, however, it isn't just because she is a Republican that she would get the attention of the GOP leadership and the president. Rather, he noted that her legislative record in the Ohio House of Representatives over the past eight years shows that she is a fighter for her constituents.
Message: Ryan's 20 months in the Ohio Senate have been forgettable.