By David Skolnick
YOUNGS- TOWN — The head of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber criticized those having a celebration for former U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr. saying the event for the ex-congressman — and soon-to-be ex-con — is “inappropriate.”
In a column, appearing in today’s edition of The Vindicator, Tom Humphries, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, called Traficant “someone who brought shame and ridicule to his office and to his community.”
Traficant, a former nine-term congressman, is getting out of federal prison Wednesday after serving a little more than seven years for racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
In his letter, Humphries wrote that he wishes Traficant well, but there is no reason to hold an event to honor his release from prison.
About 1,000 tickets are sold to an event next Sunday at Mr. Anthony’s banquet hall in Boardman to celebrate Traficant’s release.
Linda Kovachik, the event’s organizer and a former Traficant staffer, said Humphries is entitled to his opinion. But the “Jim Traficant Appreciation Dinner,” at $20 a ticket, is going on as scheduled, she said.
“This is a community effort to honor the man for his work,” she said. “Anyone who wants to come can come, and those who don’t, don’t have to come. The man served his time. Should he go crawl in a hole?”
Kovachik said the chamber treated Traficant as an adversary for years, refusing to cooperate with him when he sought federal funding for local projects.
In his letter, Humphries wrote that the Mahoning Valley has changed for the better since Traficant went to prison seven years ago.
“We should not turn the clocks back and return to the past,” he wrote. “We have suffered enough. I really believe we are poised for much success after many years of decline.”
Humphries couldn’t be reached to comment on the letter.
Tony Paglia, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, said Humphries “was compelled [to write it] because he saw so many messages celebrating his return. He felt the need to put [Traficant’s release] in perspective.”
As for why many other community leaders aren’t criticizing Traficant, Paglia said doing so is “a difficult thing.” But that silence was one reason why Humphries wrote the letter, Paglia said.
The letter didn’t sit well with George Felix Farris, chief executive of Farris Marketing and a chamber member.
Farris said he doesn’t care what Traficant does, but it is not the chamber’s job to tell business owners how to think.
“It just ticks me off,” he said. “And it’s insulting. ... We don’t need to be told what is appropriate. I’d just like to see the chamber help my clients get more information, grants, find new markets [and] not expound about non-business issues like Traficant.”
Farris added that Humphries’ letter, written on chamber stationery, makes it sound as if he is representing all Valley businesses.
“Where does the chamber get off telling people what is and is not appropriate when it comes to [Traficant’s] return?” Farris asked. “The chamber is not my chosen preacher, my therapist or my elected political leader. Here’s a suggestion for the chamber: promote business.”
Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras doesn’t object to the welcome-home appreciation event for Traficant.
“If they want to hold a party, they can and I won’t criticize them,” he said. Traficant “had a rabid and strong following. I understand those people’s admiration for him. But a majority of people have moved on. As a community, we’ve moved past this. I won’t be there, but they should be allowed to celebrate his return.”