By Bertram de Souza
Now is not the time for the Mahoning Valley to be attracting national attention to the crucial role it is playing in the rebirth of General Motors Corp. There are too many communities around the country, including several in Ohio, that are reeling from last week’s announcement of plant closings and dealership retrenchment.
One area’s good fortune in the GM sweepstakes is another’s misfortune. And, the losers will not be magnanimous in their reaction to the winners.
As the reality of their economic collapse sinks in, regions like the Mahoning Valley will become targets of their derision.
Indeed, with GM spending $350 million in its Lordstown assembly complex for the production of its new compact model, the Cruze, the eyes of the nation will be upon the Valley. Several years ago, the company spent $1 billion at the facility to get the highly successful Chevrolet Cobat off the ground.
That is why it is advisable for the area to keep a low profile. We don’t want to unnecessarily draw attention to ourselves.
Truth be told, we have too many warts that could become story lines for the national press.
Being ignored last week by members of the Obama administration, GM officials and even Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland was a good thing.
Rubbing salt in the wounds
Having top federal and state officials parade through the region touting the Lordstown assembly plant would have been seen as rubbing salt in the wounds of those communities that are losing GM factories and dealerships.
Consider what would have happened had President Barack Obama’s auto czar, Dr. Ed Montgomery, visited this region after GM’s filing for bankruptcy reorganization.
Montgomery would have be accompanies by a horde of journalists, especially those from communities that are on the losing end of GM’s rebirth. And while their primary interest would have been the Lordstown plant, reporters would also have pursued the one story that continues to whet their appetites: The imprisoned ex-Congressman James A. Traficant Jr.
Traficant has been portrayed by state, national and international media types as the Mahoning Valley’s everyman — and woman and child.
His mercurial behavior, conspiracy theories and madcap speeches during his 17-year tenure in the House of Representatives made him popular with Capitol Hill reporters.
On the other hand, he was kept at arm’s length by members of the Democratic caucus because he made it clear early on that he was not a team player.
And when he was indicted for using his public position for personal gain and was convicted of 10 criminal counts, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion, few Democrats in Washington shed tears for him.
By contrast, Traficant’s fall from grace was mourned by many in this region. In fact, in the eight years he has been in federal prison, his supporters and defenders have continued to carry the torch for him.
His prison sentence is up in September and his return home will be met with great joy in the Valley.
That would have been one of the story lines during auto czar Montgomery’s visit.
Reporters would have fanned out into the tri-county area to get a sense of the region and would have heard this:
“Jimbo’s our man. If everyone had listened to him when he was in Congress and was pushing his Buy American initiatives and warning about the demise of the American auto industry, we wouldn’t be in the position we are today. The government conspired against him and set him up because they wanted him out of the way. I’ll vote for him if he runs again.”
And the journalists would have filed stories with this line:
“The region that gave the nation Jim Traficant is now being called on to save General Motors,”
Fair? Absolutely not, but then again we have only ourselves to blame for our negative image.
It is a fact that GM chose its Lordstown plant to build the Cobalt and soon the Cruze because of the great labor-management teamwork, and the quality workforce.
But, all that would have been lost in the negative spin reporters would have put on the story.
Being ignored by federal and state officials was a good thing.