Bertram de Souza’s column last Sunday, “Righetti flexes her muscle,” was right on the money. The headline, however, may have been more fitting if it had read “Righetti panders to Cafaro,” or perhaps “Righetti ignores the public’s interest.”
Everything about Righetti’s actions as described in Bertram’s column, from her campaigns to defeat David Ludt and oust George Tablack as county administrator to her purported targeting of Prosecutor Paul Gains and fellow County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti, reeks of a vendetta against those who dared cross Cafaro. After all, it was these four courageous public servants who did something virtually unheard of in Mahoning County government — they made a decision based on the public’s interest rather than for the benefit of the small but powerful cabal of special interests that has dominated county politics for more than five decades.
Righetti defended her attack on Tablack by claiming, “We want to move in a different direction for Mahoning County.” The best that can be said is that she didn’t lie and claim she and her cohort, indicted county Commissioner John McNally, wanted to move the county in a “new” direction, for new it surely isn’t. Rather, Righetti and McNally seem intent on ending the Mahoning County “spring” we have enjoyed over the past four or five years after the federal sweep that convicted a host of corrupt public officials, They are restoring the closed, backward political culture that has dominated this community for too long, a culture more akin to feudalism than representative democracy, where public officials behave like vassals paying homage and pledging fealty to the overlord on Belmont Avenue in hopes of winning his favor and benefits.
The Citizen’s League of Greater Youngstown exposed this cabal back in 2000 when it shined the spotlight on the so-called “Cafaro Roundtable,” a regular meeting sponsored by the Cafaros where friends, elected public officials and other political notables supposedly gathered to “socialize.” As the League observed at the time, “The practice of secretive, brokered politics, in which a few wealthy, powerful individuals control stables of politicians and public officials, is part of a culture and value system where the line between lawfulness and illegality has been dangerously blurred, if not obliterated altogether.”
The subsequent conviction of J.J. Cafaro, one of the hosts of the Roundtable, for bribing a U.S. congressman and the current indictment of the other host of the Roundtable, Anthony Cafaro, on a bevy of alleged crimes implicating elected public officials have validated the League’s original concerns about the negative and destructive consequences of this culture on the community. It has strangled us for too long. It must end.
As was impressed on many of us who were guests in Palermo, Sicily, in 2000 at the U.N. International Symposium on The Role of Civil Society in Countering Organized Crime, law enforcement alone cannot solve the problem of organized crime and public corruption. It can only offer a window of opportunity to make changes. It’s up to the citizens of Mahoning County to take advantage when these opportunities arise.
A new window is now open. The time to act is now. Get involved. Call or write Righetti and any other minions of Cafaro holding public office, and let them know clearly and unequivocally that you will not stand for this county being returned to the control of a few self-serving power brokers. If they ignore you, remember them at election time. They work for you. You hire them, and you can fire them.
James B. Callen, Youngstown