It's Traficant's fault. That was the reaction locally and in Washington to the news that the Mahoning Valley was largely ignored in the massive $397 billion budget bill that President Bush signed into law last week.
There's no doubt that former Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.'s criminal trial and his expulsion from the House hurt this region. But while it lacked a full-time representative to make a pitch for federal dollars, the question must be asked: Couldn't the Valley have found a way around Traficant to win support for various projects?
We ask the question because it seems that this area is too eager to point the finger of blame whenever the federal or state governments fail to deliver.
As far back as the 2000 congressional election, Traficant of Poland publicly admitted that he was the target of a federal criminal investigation and expected to be indicted. Nonetheless, voters of the 17th District, which encompassed the Mahoning Valley, gave him a ninth, two-year term.
His tenure in Congress came to a screeching halt last year when he was convicted of 10 criminal charges, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion, was expelled from the House and was sent to a federal penitentiary in Pennsylvania to serve an eight-year sentence.
After he was removed from office, the clerk of the House took over the day-to-day operation of the office, while several members of Congress from Ohio agreed to provide constituency services. It is now obvious that this assistance was no substitute for a full-time congressman who could make deals to secure federal money for projects in the district.
Likewise, the arrangement wasn't a substitute for an aggressive lobbying effort that should have been mounted by the entities involved in the Valley's economic revitalization.
Amanda Flaig, a spokesman for Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, summed up the situation thus: "Probably part of the reason we don't see Youngstown fully represented here is because their congressional representation has been lacking."
But residents of the region have known that for a while, which is why the Valley's share of the 2003 federal spending blueprint is so troubling. The $2.3 million is an indication of the paralysis that gripped Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties while Traficant spent his time in office trying to keep out of prison and fending off expulsion from the House. Even wounded, the loutish nine-term congressman refused to act in the best interest of the region and resign. He thus deprived the area of legitimate, credible representation.
There's a valuable lesson to be learned from last year's experience: The Mahoning Valley must establish relationships with Democratic and Republican members of Congress so it can count on bipartisan support in its bid for federal money.
As a result of redistricting, the Valley is now represented by two congressmen, Tim Ryan of Niles and Ted Strickland of Lucasville, but they're both Democrats. With the GOP in control of the White House and Congress, the region needs some Republican allies in Washington.