Will we never be rid of Traficant?
It was the final straw: Callers last week to "The Dan Rivers Show" on WKBN Radio actually recomended that the proposed sports arena in downtown Youngstown be named for James A. Traficant Jr., the former 17th District Democratic congressman serving an eight-year federal prison sentence.
Have we gone completely mad in this region? Have we lost our moral bearings? The "we" does not apply to those thoughtful residents who for years saw Traficant for the sleazy politician he turned out to be. It does apply to individuals in the Mahoning Valley who seem to think that a) Traficant was the victim of a grand conspiracy by the federal government; b) he didn't do anything more than other members of Congress have done; c) in the 17 years he represented the 17th District, he did a lot more good than bad.
For the umpteenth time, the former sheriff of Mahoning County -- remember he took money from organized crime figures during that campaign and then when caught claimed he was conducting a sting -- was not the victim of a grand conspiracy emanating out of Washington. There were 10 federal criminal charges filed against him, including bribery, racketeering and tax evasion. In a nutshell, he used his public position for personal gain; he did favors for constituents and received items of value in return. That's sleazy politics.
It's not SOP
As for the argument that Traficant did not do anything more than other members of Congress have done, remember the contention of a member of the House Ethics Committee that recommended Traficant's expulsion: Taking payment from constituents and requiring staffers to bale hay and clean and repair a houseboat are not standard operating procedures on Capitol Hill.
Finally, to the argument that Traficant did so much good for the Valley that the bad for which he is serving time pales in comparison, let it be said without hesitation: The man is a criminal.
Why focus on Traficant today? Because he looms large in two major races in the Valley. In one, a former employee of his is running for the Democratic nomination for a seat on the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners. In the other, the daughter of a Youngstown businessman who pleaded guilty to providing Traficant with an "unlawful gratuity" (a bribe by any other name?) is running for the Democratic nomination for the 14th Congressional District seat. The district includes seven northern townships in Trumbull County and Ashtabula, Lake and Geauga counties, and parts of Cuyahoga, Portage and Summit counties.
Anthony Traficanti, who worked for Traficant from 1991 to July 2002 and then was appointed administrator of the congressional office when the congressman was stripped of his position, makes no apologies for his service and neither does he repudiate his former boss. Traficanti insists that he did nothing wrong when he worked at Traficant's farm and on his houseboat -- he says he did so on his own time -- but one of Traficant's convictions reads, "Mail fraud relating to Traficanti."
The candidate clings to the notion that the former congressman's criminal behavior should not overshadow the many good things he did for the region
In the 14th Congressional District race, Capri Cafaro, daughter of J.J. Cafaro, is one of five candidates seeking the nomination to run against incumbent Steven LaTourette, a Republican completing his fifth term.
Capri Cafaro was president of USAerospace Group, a Virginia technology company for which Traficant was trying to secure a federal contract for a radar navigation system.
During the federal government's investigation of Traficant, J.J. Cafaro, an executive in the Cafaro Co., one of the nation's major shopping center developers, was offered immunity from prosecution for perjury after he agreed to cooperate with the feds in the probe.
He ultimately testified that he gave $13,000 in cash to the then congressman, but Cafaro's lawyer insisted that the transaction wasn't a bribe, but was an "unlawful gratuity."
J.J. Cafaro was subsequently sentenced to 15 months' probation.
Capri Cafaro was not implicated in the contract scheme. She testified in the trial.
It's anybody's guess how the voters of Mahoning County and the 14th District will view each candidate's ties to a congressman who epitomized corruption in government.
But given last week's suggestion from some callers to "The Dan Rivers Show" that Traficant is deserving of an honor, it is worth repeating: The man is a crook.