Y’town deserves to host a debate

By Bertram de Souza

Democrats Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama could face-off in Cleveland later this month in a nationally broadcast presidential primary debate on NBC — it would be carried live on WFMJ-Channel 21 — and CNN is also working on plans for a Democratic and Republican gabfest in Ohio. Unfortunately, Youngstown, the heart of one of the most politically active regions in the country, is being ignored.

That’s a mistake — especially on the part of the national and state Democratic organizations. Without the predominantly Democratic Mahoning and Trumbull counties, the party’s nominee would have little chance of carrying the battleground state of Ohio in the November general election.

There have been various attempts made to persuade the national networks to come to the Valley, and the effort continues.

Indeed, former Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman Don L. Hanni Jr. has taken his riverboat out of drydock and has dusted off his captain’s hat in offering to have the Riverboat Captain’s Club, his one-time party fundraising organization, sponsor the Youngstown debate between Clinton and Obama.

No takers

Thus far, he’s had no takers — even though the letter of invitation was co-signed by Jim Graham, a top official of the United Autoworkers Union.

It would be a surprise if Republicans John McCain and Mike Huckabee agreed to come to Youngstown, considering that all the Republicans in the Mahoning Valley could fit in a telephone booth. But if they did, they would certainly attract a lot of media attention.

For the Democrats, however, saying no is tantamount to snubbing the region.

To help them decide, here are the Top 10 reasons why a Clinton-Obama debate should be held in Youngstown, at the Chevrolet Centre:

No. 10 — It’s a good bet that the centre, commonly known as the arena, will be available. (It hasn’t exactly been a raging success.)

No. 9 — The debate will enable the national press to see where this region’s most famous politician, James A. Traficant Jr., got his start.

No. 8 — It will help reporters understand why the Mahoning Valley’s criminals are such buffoons. (How’s this for a story line: Things are so bad in this region of the country that even a major heist of an armored truck company resembled a segment of the Beverly Hillbillies.)

No. 7 — Mafia boss Lenine Strollo will be coming home later this year after being in federal custody for more than a decade. (This has nothing to do with the debate, but it’s an interesting tidbit for fans of the Godfather movie series.)

No. 6 — The moderator of the debate would be able to do a David Letterman imitation with Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams and Barack Obama (both black officeholders): “Jay, Barack! Barack, Jay!” (For those who don’t get it, do a Google search for the 1994 Academy Awards ceremony hosted by late night TV host David Letterman.)

No. 5 — Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will find out just how polite Democrats around the country are when they see their supporters actually trading punches outside the arena. (Politics in the Valley certainly isn’t powder puff.)

No. 4 — Congressman Tim Ryan, one of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s go-to caucus members, needs the national spotlight as he makes a bid for a committee chairmanship.

No. 3 — The debate would force city government to at least make sure that the streets are cleared of snow or are swept clean.

No. 2 — Democrats will be able to revel in the knowledge that they are sitting in the arena built with a $26.8 million federal grant secured by former Congressman Traficant after he voted with the Republicans to make Dennis Hastert speaker. Traficant’s turncoat vote obviously angered the Democratic political gods. He’s serving an eight-year sentence in federal prison on charges that included racketeering, bribery and tax evasion.

And the No. 1 reason for having the debate in Youngstown: The residents of the Mahoning Valley have earned it.

Party base

Having the debate in Youngstown would demonstrate the gratitude of national Democrats and would energize the party’s base.

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