As Traficant returns home from prison, the Valley moves on

It’s been more than seven years since James Traficant was convicted of taking bribes, filing false tax returns, racketeering and other crimes. As a result of his federal felony convictions, he was expelled from the U.S. Congress and sentenced to more than seven years in prison. Those actions brought down a longtime political leader of the Mahoning Valley and expanded the negative reputation that our Valley had faced for many years, that of a slowly dying community run by corrupt government officials.

Now, seven years later, Mr. Traficant has served his sentence and will be coming home on Sept. 2. He has paid for his crimes and deserves to be with his family and friends. He deserves to be free and enjoy the things in life that are important to him. I do wish him well.

However, it’s one thing to wish someone well, someone who has completed his debt to society, but quite another thing to celebrate his release and homecoming. Celebrating James Traficant’s return, as some in the Mahoning Valley are doing, is inappropriate.

He is a convicted felon, someone who brought shame and ridicule to his office and to his community.

In the entire history of the U.S. Congress, only five members of the U.S. House of Representatives have been expelled by their members, including Mr. Traficant. There’s nothing to celebrate in that.

Give him his due

Admittedly, Mr. Traficant was a longtime leader in the Valley, and he had his accomplishments, including such legacies as securing funding for the Covelli Centre and two courthouses in downtown Youngstown

Nevertheless, his failure to be an honest public servant far outweighs those accomplishments.

Now, there is even talk of him running for Congress again. I think that is inappropriate as well.

You see, the Mahoning Valley of 2009 is far different from the Valley of 2002. Our community has grown much over the past seven years, and I really believe James Traficant will have a hard time recognizing his hometown.

We are a Valley that has truly changed and is moving forward. We should not turn the clocks back and return to the past. We have suffered enough.

I really believe we are poised for much success after many years of decline.

Why? Because there is a spirit of unity and purpose in the Mahoning Valley that wasn’t here seven years ago. We have some young, dynamic political leaders, including Congressman Tim Ryan, Youngstown Mayor Jay Williams and Ohio Senate Minority Leader Capri Cafaro, who are providing new perspectives of what Mahoning Valley politicians can be.

The image of the Valley, nationally and internationally, has changed. Youngstown was recently named by Entrepreneur magazine as one of the 10 best cities in the U.S. to start a business. Moreover, for the first time ever, the Youngstown-Warren metro area made Site Selection magazine’s top 10 list nationally for business attraction, expansion and retention. The Regional Chamber has been successful in bringing more than 16,000 new jobs to the Valley in the past 10 years, including a new specialty steel mill in 2008. That’s right, a new steel mill.

What’s new

We have a cluster of technology companies and start-ups in downtown Youngstown, anchored by the Youngstown Business Incubator and Turning Technologies, which is being billed by some as the Silicon Valley of the Rust Belt. The city of Warren is working on establishing a green-energy business incubator soon as well.

Under the leadership of Dr. David Sweet, we have seen Youngstown State University grow and change almost beyond recognition. Since his appointment, the university has seen its enrollment increase more than any other public college or university in the state of Ohio. In addition, it has established several Centers of Excellence with the funding help from Congressman Ryan that will lead to jobs and development in the Valley.

And speaking of change almost beyond recognition, all you have to do is walk through the streets of Youngstown on Friday or Saturday night to see change. It’s brimming with life and excitement with new eateries and entertainment venues. The city of Warren is working on revitalizing its downtown as well through the Main Street Warren program.

Yes, there is a new spirit in the Valley, much of it fueled by our young people who want to live and prosper here. People like the leaders of the Mahoning Valley Organizing Collaborative, who are working to renew troubled neighborhoods in Warren and Youngstown.

And there are many more young people and Valley natives who are coming back home when opportunities are available. They are excited about the changes in this Valley, the new and fresh image that is being projected and the promising possibilities for the future.

Again, the Traficant years are behind us. I wish Mr. Traficant well and hope he has a good life. We’re going to move on to what we expect will be a brighter and happier future for our Mahoning Valley, working in a spirit of cooperation and collaboration.

X Humphries is president and CEO of the Regional Chamber.

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