A telepathic conversation with former Congressman-turned-federal inmate James A. Traficant Jr.:
Columnist: It has been a while, congressman.
Traficant: Don’t call me names.
Columnist: I see you haven’t lost your sense of humor. Still tossing out those one-liners.
Traficant: The last seven years have been a barrel of laughs. You haven’t done much with your career, I see. Still trying to ride the Traficant train.
Columnist: Who would have thought that when we first met almost 30 years ago it would be the start of a rollercoaster relationship. But here we are on the verge of your release from prison and you’re once again the center of attention. Before we talk about your homecoming, how about a couple of bars of your favorite Elvis Presley song. I hear you’ve learned to play the guitar and have been memorizing The King’s song book.
Traficant: Just for you, de Souza, because you’ve been so fair with me, you [expletive] journalistic hack.
(The former congressman-turned-prisoner and soon-to-be airport hotel lounge singer belts out his rendition of that favorite “I did it my way.”)
Columnist: Are you referring to your time behind bars, or your tenure as sheriff and congressman?
Traficant: Still taking your cheap shots. You’ll die a miserable human being unless you change. Stop and smell the roses, tiptoe through the tulips, join hands with your fellow workers and sing “Kumbayah!”
Kinder, gentler man?
Columnist: I hope you don’t return to the Mahoning Valley on Sept. 2 a kinder, gentler man. It would be a great disappointment. After seven years in prison, you should be shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore.” After all, your were railroaded by the feds, right? You were the target of a grand conspiracy cooked up by the folks in Washington that caused friends like mall developer J.J. Cafaro to turn on you, right?
Traficant: You’re not going to get me say something that can be used against me. I’m just looking forward to being with my family and old friends and taking a tour of my convocation center in downtown Youngstown.
Columnist: You do know that the sports/entertainment facility you made possible with a $26.8 million grant now bears the name “Covelli Centre” — after Sam Covelli. Before that it was named the “Chevrolet Centre.”
Traficant: Those [expletive] city government officials led by George Mc- Kelvey knew that my name should have been on the building, but they were too chicken---- to do it.
Columnist: I imagine you know there’s going to be a “Jim Traficant Appreciation Dinner” on Sept. 6 at Mr. Anthony’s banquet hall. It’s being organized by your friend Linda Kovachik. Even though folks have been told that you may not even show up there still could be more than a thousand people on hand.
Traficant: If Linda and the rest want to have a celebration, I’m not going to stop them. She and others have stood by me through all the tough times. When even people who never met me, talked to me or followed my career from the beginning jumped on the anti-Traficant bandwagon just to attract attention to themselves, people like Linda and Dominic and Diane Marchese remained faithful. That’s real friendship.
Columnist: But during the many quiet moments over the years did you ever wonder to yourself, “Why didn’t these friends tell me I was headed down the wrong path when I surrounded myself with creeps like Georgie Alexander, and why didn’t they warn me about keeping Chuck O’Nesti on the payroll after he admitted that he was getting special medicine for his cancer from Mafia boss Lenine Strollo?”
Traficant: Remember what I told you when you asked me that question years ago? “‘I’m loyal to my friends.”
Columnist: So, do you have any plans for when you come out of prison?
Traficant: You know my cousin, Pat Traficant, is well-known in Las Vegas and has been associated with several major casinos. He has agreed to set me up as an Elvis impersonator. All I have to do is stop by my house in Poland and pick up my suits with the bell-bottom pants. Vegas, baby. See you on the Strip.
Columnist: But Elvis had a full head of hair ... Jim, you there?