By Bertram de Souza
You’ve got to hand it to the supporters of ex congressman-turned-criminal James A. Traficant Jr., they certainly wax eloquent when their man is being attacked — especially by a newspaper columnist who has made no secret of his disdain for “Jimbo.”
On Sunday, Sept. 6, four days after Traficant was released from federal prison after a seven-year stint for using his public position for personal gain, there was a much-heralded “Welcome Home Jimbo” party at Mr. Anthony’s banquet hall in Boardman.
This writer had planned to attend, but on the day before, the event’s chief organizer, Linda Kovachik, delivered the following message from The Man: “Jim doesn’t want you there.”
Since it was a private event where tickets were sold for $20 a piece, the ex-con got his wish. But being banned from the celebration — 1,200 people showed up — prompted a column on that Sunday. It was headlined, “Traficant bans writer from bash.”
At 4:18 p.m., there was this e-mail message from “firstname.lastname@example.org” sent via the Web:
“Just sitting at the Traficant dinner reading your article.
“Please take a copy and shove it up your a--.]
(There could be some medical benefit to what the messenger suggested given that the color ink used by The Vindicator is soy-based — you know, soy the miracle bean.)
That Sunday morning, there was this e-mail from “CHINKSAM816@AOL.COM”:
“Bertram, I always thought you were a smart man. After reading all the bashing of Jim Traficant I think you are a ignorant a------. The man served his time, leave him alone. If you read the book about Jim he was innocent. The stuff he got accused of was not just for all the yrs. in prison he spent. Every politician out there has done the same or more but haven’t been caught.”
And there was a letter via snail-mail that read in part:
“I strongly disagree with you.
“Jim Traficant did a lot of projects for this area. We should be grateful to this man.
The letter was signed “A Fan.” (Of Traficant’s?)
But there also were readers who offered words of support and encouragement.
This one from “GiangardellaM@salemhosp.com” echoes the sentiments of a sizable number of Mahoning Valley residents”
“I just wanted to congratulate you on being banned from Traficant’s party. You should view that as a badge of honor. He has been, and appears to continue to be, a big [expletive.]
“I’m sure you received allot of hate mail from his vocal, cult like following, but I’m thinking the silent majority agree with you.
“And people wonder why our Valley is stuck in the seventies and our bright youth move away — could it be the mentality? Only in the Mahoning Valley would they hold a reception for a criminal!”
And there was this from email@example.com (former Valley reporter who had covered Traficant during his political heyday):
“I have been reading and enjoying your commentary on the Congressman here in Chicago. It takes me back. Keep writing — it is very hard to explain here why he is getting such a warm welcome home!”
While it might be hard to explain the welcome from the outside looking in, it makes perfect sense when you’re inside. Political corruption, like organized crime, is part of the Mahoning Valley’s DNA. The same arguments now being used to justify Traficant’s criminal acts — he was convicted of 10 federal charges, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion — were applied to the members of the Mafia: Good guys who care about the down-trodden; church-going, salt-of-the-earth types; they didn’t do anything that others haven’t done; they didn’t hurt me.
But Traficant, through his corruption of politics, and mobsters, through their corruption of society, have hurt us — at least those among us who believe in standards of behavior.
Having a former congressman who spent seven years in prison isn’t a chamber of commerce moment. Neither is this region’s history of organized crime.