Published August 11, 2009
The Sunday Vindicator deployed a deplorable amount of front-page ink in the recognition of events and people welcoming criminal Jim Traficant out of prison and back home with open arms and wallets. (Front page? Seriously?) The Mahoning Valley Scrappers, with apparent disregard for what this region has been through at the hands of the criminal Traficant, is hosting “Traficant Release Night.” Mr. Anthony’s, which I assume declines editorial control over the dinners it hosts, will be the site of “Jim Traficant Appreciation Dinner,” organized by former aide Linda Kovachik. Half of the tickets for the dinner have already been sold, aided in part by Trolio’s Original T-Shirts.
I would rather not talk about criminal Jim Traficant, but for the next two months that’s going to be impossible. And if we’re talking about people lining up to celebrate the criminal Jim Traficant, then we have to name names. I understand that Ms. Kovachik is a personal friend, but that suggests she should host a private dinner party in a private home to have a private celebration for him. Flaunting for the world to see how dumb we are to get screwed over by an elected official and then pine for him while he’s away and fête him when he’s released is destructive, counter-productive and irresponsible.
Why do some locals still view criminal Jim Traficant as a hero, a martyr, an unjustly persecuted saint? It’s because they don’t understand his self-interest. Criminal Jim’s motivation was his own, personal enrichment and fame, not the well-being of his home district. That’s the only conclusion that can be reached when viewing his behavior.
It’s one thing to feel that you’re ignored and overlooked. Surely our region has justification to feel this way. We’ve seen our jobs base eroded while federal policies promote urban flight and new development over historic preservation. But the level of mistrust goes deeper than that. Many locals perceive some kind of pernicious, vindictive plot to keep us down. Congress, the FBI, “them”… there are innumerable imagined foes and oppressors.
It’s another thing to be in a power position in Congress with your middle finger permanently raised at everyone around you. Is your Congressman effective if he’s “the only rank-and-file member of Congress without a committee assignment?” If he’s consistently ranked as the least powerful of 435 representatives? If he’s only the second member of Congress to be expelled since the Civil War?
It’s useful to tell your story: you’re a truck driver’s son; your district suffers from segregation and deindustrialization. Your story breeds empathy, which can help build alliances and secure projects. But when you step into the halls of Congress, you play the game if you want to get ahead. This means you don’t always say what you think, you don’t constantly aggrandize yourself in front of your peers and you don’t cast yourself as the court jester. A jester is an amuser—a servant—and that’s not a power position.
Criminal Jim Traficant is part of our past. (Judging by his clothing, even when he was in the present he was part of the past.) That past features close to seventy-five individuals indicted for corrupt and criminal activities. These criminals undermined the decent citizens of this Valley by sucking up its wealth and resources for themselves. They deprived us of justice for all, opportunity for all. Instead it was privilege for the few and justice for the well-connected.
I’ll acknowledge where criminal Jim Traficant was able to spur development, through his involvement in the Covelli Centre and a few other structures. His example overall, however, is part of a culture of corruption and crime that was a prime driver behind the region’s inability to recover from the collapse of its manufacturing base. So many dollars that belonged to the hard-working residents of the Valley—not to mention his staffers—ended up in criminal Traficant’s pocket, reinforcing that we need to continue the move away from old-school machine politics and towards the grass-roots activism exemplified in the most recent Presidential election.
Organizations and individuals who lift up and celebrate the criminal Traficant are spitting in the face of the working-class constituents he claimed to represent and then abandoned, as he did his principles and his party. When Heidi Hanni says, “Jim Traficant has always been the guy … that took care of the little guy,” I want to vomit. As The Vindicator opined back on April 12, 2002, “He took favors, equipment, building supplies and labor in exchange for doing nothing more than what a congressman is supposed to do.”
In fact, The Vindicator’s front-page trumpeting of the “Welcome Home, Jimbo” festivities is all the more remarkable given the no fewer than nine editorials published about criminal Traficant between April and July, 2002:
· April 5 – Ethics in government should concern us all
"The challenge is to make the difficult choices," the executive director of the Ohio Ethics Commission said. "It's up to you to create the expectations of having the highest level of ethics. The responsibility of changing the climate in a community is with its people."
Traficant always had one of the highest staff payrolls in Congress, and now we know why. Some of those employees were required to kick back thousands of dollars from their paychecks to Traficant. Others were being used to work on his houseboat or to do chores at his horse farm. Even while he was on trial, he brazenly had a government employee serve as his chauffeur much of the time.
By continuing to blather about the FBI and the U.S. Justice Department having a vendetta against James A. Traficant Jr., and by your demeaning and unsubstantiated allegations of unfairness against U.S. District Judge Lesley Brooks Wells, you not only bring shame to the legislative body in which you have served since 1985, but you bring shame to the region you claim to love so dearly.
· June 15 – Mahoning Valley’s ranking shameful and worrisome
"Youngstown's [the Valley's] reputation for crime and corruption has made growth for this Ohio metro extremely difficult. ... It's going to take a lot to draw business to this rundown city plagued with bankrupt companies and a history of economic scandal."
Make no mistake about it: Traficant's conviction on 10 federal criminal charges and his refusal to take any responsibility for his misdeeds are feeding the negative opinions like those expressed by Forbes.
He was convicted on April 11 and since that day has not stepped into his office on Capitol Hill, has not participated in any debates on the floor and has not cast any votes.
His presence in the congressional district hasn't served any useful purpose, either. Most of his time is spent trying to find a way to get the jury verdict overturned. Thus, the people are paying him to pursue his private agenda. Meanwhile, the needs of the Mahoning Valley are being ignored.
This region has been without an effective, dedicated representative in Congress for more than a year -- the indictment was handed down May 4, 2001. We deserve better.
Of course, Traficant wasn't playing his role as aggrieved good guy for the eight members of the committee. His show was designed for his supporters around the country watching CSPAN, the men and women who buy into his absurdities and really believe that the government is out to get him. They honestly believe that he's been fighting for the little guy when all along he's been taking the little guy's hard-earned tax dollars to feather his own nest and line his own pockets.
Jim Traficant took money from the mob when he ran for sheriff in 1980. He denied it at first. Then he said he took it only to keep it from being used against him. And then he said he took it in a one-man sting to destroy the mob. But he took it. And even though a jury in 1983 found him not guilty, subsequent events and testimony showed that he not only took the money, he spent some of it.
Last night's overwhelming vote to expel him made it clear that no one bought his tissue-thin arguments that he was the victim of a grand federal government conspiracy, that his criminal trial was replete with judicial and prosecutorial misconduct, and that he has been a target of the FBI and the Justice Department for the past 19 years.
It was a shameless display of arrogance on the part of an individual who still refuses to take responsibility for his actions and who continues to ignore one basic truth: that he and he alone chose to stray from the straight and narrow -- and got caught.
But rather than spend the past 17 years truly representing the people of the Mahoning Valley and behaving in a manner that would have made us proud, he became the congressional jester, the buffoon who attracted attention because of his gutter mouth, his unconventional attire and his one-minute speeches. He was not a serious legislator, but he knew that he didn't have to be. Election after election showed that he had pulled the wool firmly over the eyes of a sufficient number of voters in the 17th District. He was their hero and could do no wrong.
Unfortunately, he was the lens through which the nation viewed the Mahoning Valley. And so today, we must suffer the consequences of having had Traficant as our congressman.
Time to close the book.
The only reason to hold up criminal Jim Traficant is as an example of our corrupt past: a past that will not be repeated. Through their words and actions, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, Linda Kovachik, Tony Trolio and Heidi Hanni are willing us to return to corruption, disgrace and failure. Have you no shame?
If you care about the future of this region, then you must denounce criminal Jim Traficant.
If you want to see the Valley have effective representation at the state and federal levels, you must denounce criminal Jim Traficant.
If you would rather see national business magazines rank Youngstown as a “Top Ten City to Start a Business” rather than a “Worst Place to do Business or Advance a Career,” you must denounce criminal Jim Traficant.
Denounce Criminal Jim Traficant.