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10 Years in Review: The trail of Traficant

Published: Thu, December 31, 2009 @ 12:00 a.m.

By David Skolnick

YOUNGSTOWN — James A. Traficant Jr. is only the second person to be expelled from the U.S. House of Representatives since the Civil War.

He served a federal prison sentence of more than seven years for 10 felony convictions, and unsuccessfully ran for Congress from his cell.

He’s been anything but quiet since his Sept. 2 release insisting he was railroaded and looking to run for Congress to get even with those who put him behind bars.

What Traficant — known for his toupee and retro clothes as much as his criminal convictions — did before he went to prison and what he’s done since his release makes him the top local news story of the decade as selected by reporters and editors of The Vindicator.

Traficant crossed party line in January 2001 to vote for Republican Dennis Hastert as speaker of the House.

That led to Traficant becoming the only House member in a non-leadership position without a committee assignment.

Four months later he was indicted on 10 felony counts.

Traficant, serving as his own attorney, was convicted in April 2002 on all of the counts he faced.

The jury believed Traficant took kickbacks from local businessmen and had congressional staffers do work on his Greenford farm and a former houseboat he owned on federal government time.

On July 24, 2002, the U.S. House voted to kick Traficant out of office, only the second person expelled from Congress since the Civil War. The other congressman expelled was Michael Myers of Pennsylvania, who was kicked out in 1980 after being convicted of accepting $50,000 in bribes from undercover FBI agents.

Traficant was sentenced to prison July 30, 2002.

The fall-out from Traficant’s demise had major ramifications for Mahoning Valley politics.

With Traficant’s seat vacant, the Democratic primary was filled with political heavy-hitters, including then-U.S. Rep. Thomas Sawyer of Akron, then-state Rep. Anthony Latell of Girard, a longtime local legislator, and state Sen. Tim Ryan of Niles, an elected official for a little more than a year at the time.

Ryan pulled off what was considered an upset in the May 2002 Democratic primary, and easily won the general election that year.

Ryan quickly became a political powerhouse, eventually obtaining a seat on the House Appropriations Committee, a position Traficant had long coveted.

Another young local politician came to prominence this past decade.

Jay Williams, Youngstown’s community development agency director and an architect of the Youngstown 2010 redevelopment plan, was elected in November 2005 as the city’s first black mayor. He was also the first independent candidate to win the seat in about 80 years.

Williams was easily re-elected as a Democrat last month.

Other top stories of the decade include:

Murder continued to take a high toll in the Valley.

Among the two most visible was the ambush and killing of Youngstown police Patrolman Michael T. Hartzell on April 29, 2003, by Martin L. Koliser Jr. and the death of six — two women and four children — in a Jan. 23, 2008, fire purposely set by Michael A. Davis on East Side. The latter was the city’s largest mass murder.

It wasn’t a good decade for the Youngstown City School District.

The district received about $200 million from the state for new buildings. But the new buildings didn’t help the district’s academic woes.

It was the only public school system in Ohio in 2009 in “academic emergency,” the lowest rating the state gives. The district’s financial woes has landed it in state fiscal emergency.

The district also saw a number of its students leave to attend charter schools or to other public school districts through open enrollment.

Political corruption and misconduct in the Mahoning Valley continued during the past 10 years, though not as widespread as it was in the 1990s.

Besides Traficant, the federal government convicted two former Valley politicians of fraud this year.

The two are: Maureen A. Cronin, a former Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judge, and ex-Trumbull County Commissioner James Tsagaris.

Federal prosecutors continue to investigate allegations of political corruption in the Valley.

Also, Marc Dann of Liberty, elected attorney general in 2006 in what even he described as a “surprise,” didn’t last too long in office.

A sex scandal under his watch forced Dann to resign under pressure May 3, 2008, about 17 months after he took office as attorney general.

The Mahoning Valley was a key stop for presidential candidates in 2000, 2004 and 2008. Every major-party presidential nominee visited the Valley during the three campaigns.

Also, Barack Obama visited the Lordstown General Motors complex on Sept. 15, 2009, becoming the first sitting president to visit the area during an odd-numbered, non-election year.

Among the Valley’s other bright spots was the selection of George V. Murry as the first black bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown on March 28, 2007.

Also, downtown Youngstown enjoyed a revival led by the opening of Federal Plaza to connect East and West Federal streets, the Covelli Centre, and a number of high-tech businesses as well as bar and restaurants in former vacant buildings.



1Nonsocialist(710 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

The Traficant obsession continues.

Smear/hit jobs such as this piece insult Vindy reader's intelligence and may even build sympathy for this man who erred badly but paid his debt to society. Of course the Federal funding for two Courthouses and the Covelli Center are AWOL from this unbalanced propaganda.

Of course Traficant would make a better congressman than the PP (Pelosi-puppet), but so would my flatulent dog. I don't want Traficant as my congressman, but want him treated fairly.

You wanna see smear on steroids...just wait until you see how the Vindy handles Ryan's 2010 GOP opposition and Obama's 2012 GOP opposition.

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2Tugboat(759 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

"Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say?"
-Kurt Vonnegut, "Bluebeard" (p.168)

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3Heard_it_all_before(62 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

The Traficant-as-victim paradigm has little traction among anyone who has examined the mountain of evidence and verified facts about his long and corrupt tenure as a career criminal. His wounds are self-inflicted and he thrives on the attention his outrageous behavior garners for him.

There have been many who suffered the wrath of Traficant when he WAS in power and still more who suffered indirectly form his unseemly antics. The Valley became a laughing stock and a highly visible example of corruption and abuse of office/power. If the indictment of over 70 ranking public officials doesn't get your attention, I don't know what will.

Our history is described as "colorful" and "rough and tumble", but the reality is that we need to continue changing the culture of criminality and allegiance to crooks, petty power brokers and organized crime figures that has strangled the region for decades. They are not our friends - they seek only to enrich themselves with money and perks that impede the hopes and dreams of those who want to do the right things.

I happen to agree with many of the positions articulated by the "tea party" folks, but your credibility is seriously undermined by embracing Traficant as a spokesperson. Many of your supporters are credible, respected citizens who could more effectively advance the agenda without having it become a circus act. Traficant is a badly tarnished relic of a dark and checkered past. Cut him loose, already. If he wants to be left alone, maybe he should have thought about quietly enjoying his freedom after all those years in prison instead of pusuing some form of retribution against those who supposedly "railroaded" him. Good luck with that...

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4rmzrez(134 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

I just love these people who tell us in the tea party what we should do and believe in and how we should vote . Remember we are the true Americans here and what we say and do is right. We are the respected citizens and you guys who do not go along are the circus act.

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5dd933(295 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

History is dotted with sociopaths that have a following.

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich."

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6Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

"YOUNGSTOWN — James A. Traficant Jr. is only the second person to be expelled from the U.S. House of Representatives since the Civil War."

Well, he has made history even if he wasn't the first .

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7tookie(64 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Where were the Tea Party people when Bush was tripling our national debt, getting us into the Iraq quagmire and sitting by while the banks and stock market companies made decisions that caused the greatest economic downturn since the Depression. Your tea party nonsense has no credability. And then on top of that to embrace Traficant! Give me a break.

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8Nonsocialist(710 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

I don't think I've read a single post on this website from anyone claiming that President Bush didn't make mistakes. He does not have the admiration of conservatives, because he was no fiscal conservative. He was "liberal lite."

However, what I do see are "useful idiots" who defend all Obama's destructive policies and lies. These defenders (including the Vindy itself), without any accomplishments of Obama's to cite, simply smear the former President and advocates for personal liberty (aka conservatives). It's all they got.

Wise up, libs. Think America first, and political party second. When you practice blind loyalty, you become a chump.

The facts:

President Bush presided over a $2.5 trillion increase in the public debt through 2008. Setting aside 2009 (for which Presidents Bush and Obama share responsibility for an additional $2.6 trillion in public debt), President Obama's budget would add $4.9 trillion in public debt from the beginning of 2010 through 2016— nearly double the amount accumulated under Pres­ident Bush over the same number of years. Overall, the public debt level would double over the next decade to $15.4 trillion ($12.5 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars).

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9candystriper(575 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Good Luck in 20TEN

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10howardinyoungstown(591 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

My turn to rant.

1. Obama is and always was a socially liberal fiscally conservative corporate hack (a capitalist through and through); his idea of change is lets put a new face on the same old sh%&.
2. All of the spokespersons for the so called "Tea Party" movement apparently want us to live under rules that seem to be closer to Fascist Italy under Mussolini than to a Democracy (their answer to anyone who disagrees with them is to shout get out of America).
3. Everyone has a responsibility to be informed on political issues therefore I suggest following 2 US media sources of your choice but also 3 non US media sources to get a better understanding of just how biased US media truly is.
4. Stop blaming the unions for the corporate bailouts (yes the UAW did lobby for the bailouts to protect their members as they should); the one and only reason why the Automakers were given our tax dollars is because they are potential defense manufacturers and the defense department wonks would never let them go under (they don't mind them being foreign owned since in a legally declared war the government would simply seize them).
5. Give Mayor Williams a break he is only one man he has tried to do a lot for Youngstown, but he is still working in a bureaucracy full of corruption and waste. He is fighting an uphill battle and that he got anything done is worthy of praise not condemnation.
6. If GOPers and Tea Baggers continue to call anyone who disagrees with them socialists or communists they should all have to join the John Birch Society since that is the original group that started that campaign. (feel free to Google it if you have never heard of them).
7. I am a proud American socialist and I am offended at the miss use of the word socialist (an economic system not a type of government). No I am not going to leave America to appease your frail sensibilities; since I do believe in and support the Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill of Rights as written by our founding fathers.

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11Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Bernie Madoff made billions from blind sheep . Obama and his cronies will make trillions from blind sheep .


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12Stan(9923 comments)posted 5 years, 8 months ago

Politics is where a smooth talker like Obama tells us that IT'S ALL GOOD . I wonder if he gets in touch with reality by the next election .

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