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Rep. Ryan should walk away from Dean

By Bertram de Souza

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Former Vt. Gov. Howard Dean placed a distant third in the Iowa caucuses and polls conducted in the last couple of days show him trailing U.S. Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts in the New Hampshire Democratic primary. Yet, the Mahoning Valley's congressman, Tim Ryan, is standing by his man, Dean.
Talk about a political tin ear.
Last month, it was suggested in this space that Ryan, a Democratic representative from Niles, was being impetuous in endorsing the former governor in a race for Democratic nomination for president that was still in its infancy and that featured several members of Congress.
It was also suggested that former Vice President Al Gore's embrace of Dean was a godsend for Ryan, who could lose himself in the campaign bandwagon. That way, his ill-advised endorsement would soon be forgotten.
But the 17th District rep not only chose to ignore this writer's suggestions but announced that he was going to Iowa to campaign for Dean.
And so on Monday night, as Dean, who had been the front-runner for weeks, made a spectacle of himself by giving a speech -- his war cry Yeaaaahhhhhghhhh is now the stuff of late-night TV talk show monologues -- to a national television audience, the idea of Ryan's continuing to openly support the third place finisher was too far-fetched to fathom.
Thus, imagine the surprise when the congressman told WKBN Radio talk show host Dan Rivers that he planned to continue campaigning for Dean. It doesn't seem to matter to him that the top two finishers in Iowa, Kerry and Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, have the momentum going into Tuesday's New Hampshire primary, and that his man is struggling to keep his campaign alive.
But perhaps Ryan, who obviously has some political talent considering his victory in the 2002 congressional election, is now ready to listen to reason.
Rather than traipsing around the country on an iffy proposition, the congressman might better spend his time thinking about the very real threat to the Youngstown Air Reserve Station -- a threat that could become all the more real if Kerry winds up being the Democratic nominee for president.
Why? Three words: Teresa Heinz Kerry. She is now married to Kerry, but she is the widow of Sen. John Heinz, whose name and family business are an institution in Pittsburgh. And that's significant.
To understand where this is going, consider the story that appeared in the Business section of The Vindicator on Jan. 14. The story was headlined, "Several show interest in US Airways' assets, sources say."
The story had to do with US Airways' financial troubles and the fact that at least five airlines or airline operators are interested in buying the carrier's assets. Among those assets, gates at airports.
US Airways has said that it intends to use just 10 of its 50 gates at Pittsburgh International Airport through 2018, and there is a possibility the airline may move out of Pittsburgh International.
Here's what Allegheny County Executive Dan Onorato says he is exploring as a replacement for US Airways: the military or a discount carrier.
The airport is already home to the 911th Airlift Wing, which has 1,220 Air Force reservists and 320 civilian employees, and the 171st Air Refueling Wing, which has 400 full-time staff and 1,000 Pennsylvania Air National Guard members.
Familiar ring
If the mention of the airlift wing has a familiar ring, it is because the Youngstown Air Reserve Station in Vienna Township is home to the 910 Airlift Wing.
In 2005, the Pentagon will send to Congress a list of military installations in the United States that should be closed as part of the Defense Department's restructuring.
Those who think that the decisions will be made purely on an objective basis are fooling themselves -- just as Howard Dean was fooling himself the night of the Iowa caucuses.
In the end, it will be about politics, presidential politics. If Bush wins re-election, Republican Sen. Rick Santorum of Pittsburgh, who has emerged as the moral arbiter of the GOP controlled Congress, can be expected to block any move to close the air reserve base at Pittsburgh International Airport. The White House will pay attention to Santorum.
But what if Kerry wins? Heinz, known for her outspokenness, can be expected to lobby on behalf of the Pittsburgh base.
Ryan had better hope that it does not come down to a choice between Youngstown and Pittsburgh. He won't get an attentive ear in the Bush White House, and lip service is the most he could expect from a Kerry administration.