Traficant speaking on July 30, 2002, shortly after his expulsion from Congress on corruption charges.
Traficant speaking on July 30, 2002, shortly after his expulsion from Congress on corruption charges. Mark Duncan/AP
Or at least he wants to be.
James Traficant, who spent nine terms in Congress as a Democrat from Youngstown, Ohio — who then went on to spend seven years in prison on corruption charges — has filed papers that would get him on the November ballot for his old job, but this time as an independent.
Convicted on racketeering, bribery and tax evasion charges, Traficant was expelled from the House in July 2002 — only the second congressman kicked out since the Civil War. The vote was 420-1, with Rep. Gary Condit (D-CA), with his own set of problems, voting against expulsion.
Traficant was a Democrat back then but in later years often alienated members of his own party. During the 2001 vote to organize the House, he voted for Republican Dennis Hastert for speaker, eliciting gasps in the chamber. But he had an eclectic national following, thanks to an endless stream of speeches/tirades he would give on the House floor, often railing against the Internal Revenue Service.
In the fall of 2002, from his prison cell, Traficant ran for Congress as an independent but lost in the newly-configured district to Tim Ryan, a Democrat and the person Traficant hopes to unseat in November. In that election, Traficant received 15 percent of the vote.
For most of his tenure in Congress, Traficant, now 68, was best known for his outsized personality, his history of theatrical and profane comments on the House floor, and a widely ridiculed hair piece.
He's also, in the words of the Youngstown Vindicator, "a crook."
After seven-plus years in the federal penitentiary, not even those voters who are blinded by his anti-government screed would risk returning him to office. He might wear his conviction on 10 criminal charges, including racketeering, bribery and tax evasion, as a badge of honor, but there is nothing honorable about him.
The yes-men (and women) who surround Traficant can keep telling him that he was the victim of a grand federal government conspiracy until they’re blue in the face.
In the end, however, Jim Traficant is a crook — which is why having him run for Congress this year is so appealing to a journalist.
If he decides to enter the general election race, he will not be able hide — as he has done since he came out of prison. To be sure, he has dealt with reporters, but by the rules that he has established. He has refused to answer specific questions about his incarceration, his criminal behavior while a member of Congress, his life since his release from prison, and his now famous deal-making with Mafia leaders during his campaign for sheriff. ...
It would be fun to have Traficant on the campaign trail, peppering him with questions that he obviously doesn’t want to answer.
On the other hand, Traficant would be doing the Mahoning Valley a big favor by not running this year. His candidacy will dredge up the region’s putrid political history and will turn the state and national spotlight on us — and not in a good way.