MAHONING COUNTY Hopefuls question the integrity of foe
Commissioner candidates Ditzler and Traficanti point to each other's past.
By DAVID SKOLNICK
VINDICATOR POLITICS WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Although former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. sits in a federal prison, partly because he had Anthony Traficanti perform chores on his family farm on federal time, the Mahoning County commissioner candidate doesn't feel his connection to the ex-congressman will hinder his campaign.
"I did nothing wrong," Traficanti of Poland said. "I would not run for office if I did anything wrong. I was a paid employee who did my job admirably. I was never asked to break the law. I did what I was paid to do."
But his two opponents in the March 2 Democratic primary -- Austintown Trustee David C. Ditzler and William Flickinger of Youngstown -- question Traficanti's integrity.
"There is a certain group of people who will support [Traficant], but to wear it as a badge of honor when he sits in jail for stealing from the taxpayers is wrong," Ditzler said of Traficanti. "Being aligned with him isn't a positive."
Traficant was sentenced in 2002 to eight years in a federal prison for bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. A jury found Traficant guilty of a mail fraud act of racketeering for having Traficanti and two other former staffers work on his Greenford farm while collecting a federal paycheck.
Traficanti was never charged with a crime. Also, when Traficant was kicked out of Congress, the clerk of the House appointed Traficanti to run the 17th Congressional District office. Traficanti said that proves that he has integrity and the trust of the clerk of the U.S. House, who made the appointment.
"Don't have the impression that Anthony Traficanti didn't spend any time in the congressional office," he said. "That's a crock."
Fond of Traficant
Traficanti said he was extremely fond of Traficant, and worked at the farm as a favor and because he enjoyed being around the then-congressman.
Traficanti said he had no idea that Traficant staffers were kicking money back to the congressman, though he sometimes did question why some employees were being paid a lot of money in salary.
"If I would have seen anything criminal, I would have gone to the authorities," he said.
But Traficanti stopped short of saying he believes Traficant is guilty.
"A jury of 12 found him guilty; I will stand by what the jury says," he said.
During his federal testimony, Traficanti said he earned $300,000 annually, only about one-quarter of that from his congressional office job.
When asked why he didn't quit out of principle when Traficant was indicted, Traficanti said: "I needed that job. There was nice retirement benefits. I admired what Jim did. Being indicted doesn't mean he was guilty."
Turning the tables
Traficanti turned the tables on Ditzler, saying the Austintown trustee and former Mahoning Democratic Party chairman was silent when controversy swirled around two of his political allies -- Commissioner Vicki Allen Sherlock and former Mahoning Democratic Chairman Michael Morley.
A 2002 state audit determined Sherlock used county credit cards to take unauthorized trips contrary to the county's travel policy. A 1997 state audit listed a $65,000 finding for recovery against Morley and others for payment for bond work dealing with the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District. Neither were indicted or arrested.
"Mr. Ditzler is a hypocrite," Traficanti said. "Let's talk about his associations. Is he someone you want running county government?"
Flickinger also criticized Ditzler for his involvement in those incidents.
Ditzler said both cases were investigated and it wouldn't have been prudent to comment on them until the results were revealed. But he did criticize Traficant and urged people to vote against the congressman in 2000 before the then-congressman's indictment.
Ditzler said he was bothered in particular by Sherlock's credit-card controversy and told her so during a private conversation.
But Ditzler also praised Sherlock as a good commissioner who had many solid ideas. Her biggest problem was she grew distant from the two other commissioners, which strained their working relationship, he said.