Should ’09 be the year to embrace our slugs?

By Bertram de Souza

“Nice job kicking a guy when he’s down!”

“Why can’t you be more positive?”

And then there’s this doozie: “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you just leave?”

Those were some of the reactions last year to this writer’s harsh criticism of area officeholders who became rogues.

Of particular interest was the saga of disgraced former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, who went into office in January 2007 with such high expectations that there was talk of his running for governor, but in May walked out a broken politician.

Yes, the comments in this space about Dann and his admitted extramarital affair with his then scheduler, Jessica Utovich, were harsh and, perhaps, hurtful. But they were more than justified. That’s because Dann won election against veteran Republican officeholder Betty Montgomery by portraying the Republican Party in Columbus as a cabal of thieves who made pay-to-play standard operating procedure. At the time, Republicans controlled the governor’s office, both chambers of the General Assembly and all the statewide administrative offices.

Dann’s blowing the lid off “Coingate” enabled Democrats to sweep the 2006 statewide election for governor and all but one of the state administrative offices.

Tawdry details

Thus, when the tawdry details of the attorney general’s private life surfaced in the midst of sexual harassment complaints filed against a member of his inner circle, Tony Gutierrez, the last thing that any credible commentator on Valley politics would do is label him a victim and urge understanding for his flawed character.

But that’s what some of his supporters advocated.

Even Bentley Lenhoff, Dann’s father-in-law and long-time director of the Youngstown Playhouse, rose to the defense of the man who is married to his daughter, Alyssa Lenhoff. Bentley Lenhoff not only took exception to this writer’s characterization of the then embattled attorney general, but also to the criticism of two of Dann’s key employees, Leo Jennings III, the communications director, and Edgar Simpson, the chief of staff.

In the end, Gutierrez, Jennings and Simpson, all friends of Dann from the Mahoning Valley, left public office with the stain that has now spread through this region.

Family members who rise up in moral indignation when they see the names of their “loved” ones in the newspaper are turning a blind eye to reality. The letters, e-mails and telephone calls from mothers (sometimes fathers), sisters, brothers, children and even supporters of corrupt politicians all seem to convey the same message: He has suffered enough, leave him alone. And then there’s always this: Why punish the family?

Last year, a reader had this to say about Congressman-turned-federal prisoner James A. Traficant Jr.:

“Give us [an] explanation. Every Sunday we read your column. Each and every [one] has the name of James A. Traficant Jr. Why?

“He is not news! Most of us would like to forget any memory of him. Are you persecuting his family?

The writer added a postscript: “Dan is old news.”

He obviously was referring to Marc Dann.

Traficant’s possible return to Youngstown in March also made news last year. Needless to say, the reaction in this space was anything but pleasant.

That was 2008.

A new year

But with the advent of the new year, the question must be asked: Is it time to treat the Valley’s crooked politicians, of which there a many, with kindness and grace?

Let’s give it a try: Traficant was the victim of a grand conspiracy by the federal government. If he comes home, we should greet him with hugs and kisses and sprinkle rose petals before him.

Dann could be facing charges stemming from his alleged misuse of campaign funds and money contributed to his transition team. Those charges will be bogus. Marc Dann is a victim of circumstance. He was just so cuddly and had so much love to spread around.

There. It’s the fourth day of 2009 — and this writer’s cup runneth over with kindness.

For today.

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