If it pays to have friends in high places, then the Mahoning Valley may have struck gold. The region's No. 1 friend, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Niles, D-17th, has certainly ended up in a high place -- in terms of its importance to our economic well-being.
Ryan, the second term congressman who replaced the politically astute, but morally corrupt James A. Traficant Jr., has shown he possesses some of his predecessor's political astuteness. After his surprise victory in the 2002 congressional election, he proved to be a quick study on Capitol Hill. He lobbied for a seat on the powerful House Armed Services Committee, knowing that the Bush administration intended to close more than 100 military bases in the United States. He recognized the importance on being on the inside when the Base Re-alignment and Closure (BRAC) process was launched.
Then this year, Ryan set his sights on the armed services committee's Readiness Subcommittee, which is overseeing the base closure process. The congressman was appointed to the subcommittee last week.
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is scheduled to submit a list of recommended base closures to the BRAC Commission on May 16.
Ryan's presence on the panel gives the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township an unabashed defender on Capitol Hill. Even so, he is well aware of the challenge that confronts the Mahoning Valley.
"We have a good base, but good bases will still be closed," he said last week. "With that in mind, I intend to continue working as hard as possible to ensure that as a community we make the best possible case for keeping our airbase."
Politics at play?
We have said it many times: If the evaluation by the Defense Department and the BRAC Commission is made on purely objective criteria, the Youngstown station should not even be on the administration's radar screen. But we well know from past experience -- remember the so-called Pentagon project, which would have brought 5,000 to 7,000 jobs to the Valley through a regional accounting center? -- it is just about impossible to keep politics out of such issues.
Given that a slew of congressional districts are in jeopardy of losing thousands of federal jobs and millions of dollars in federal funds that military installations attract, a bloody battle is in the making.
And in such a battle, it helps to have someone with access to the levers of power in Washington,
Perhaps it's unfair to place so much of the burden of saving the Youngstown Air Reserve Station on the congressman's shoulders, but he has shown a willingness to take on this important task.
His active participation in the region's grassroots campaign known as Operation: Save Our Airbase Reservists (SOAR) and his aggressive pursuit of federal dollars for the base and the adjacent Youngstown-Warren Regional Airport should reassure Valley residents.
The Youngstown Air Reserve Station is Ohio's second largest military facility and is home to the 910th Airlift Wing of the Air Force Reserve and Marine and Navy units. The wing is the largest reserve owned C-130 unit with 16 aircraft.
The base is the fifth largest employer in the Valley and pumps more than $100 million a year into the Northeast Ohio-Western Pennsylvania economy. It employs more than 2,400 reservists, civilians and contractors in full-time or part-time positions. And it is responsible for the creation of more than 700 off-base jobs.
SOAR has hired a Washington consultant to help with campaign and has selected former base commander Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Michael F. Gjede to direct it.
As the deadline for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's list of recommended base closings nears, information will be power. Having Congressman Ryan on the subcommittee that will oversee the closing process will be a definite plus for the Mahoning Valley.