The Bob Ney-Jack Abramoff Connection

Sam Hendren of member station WOSU reports on the connections between Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH) to lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who this week pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy charges and agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their widening corruption probe. Ney still remains popular in his district.

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ALEX CHADWICK, host:

Republican Congressman Bob Ney from Ohio is under investigation by the Justice Department for his ties to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Earlier this week, Mr. Abramoff pleaded guilty to trying to bribe Congressman Ney with a trip to Scotland and other items. Not guilty, the congressman says he was not bribed, although possibly he was misled. In spite of all the bad publicity, he still remains very popular in his home congressional district. From member station WOSU in Columbus, Sam Hendren reports.

SAM HENDREN reporting:

On Thursday afternoon, host George Kellas began his local talk radio show with what he said was one of the day's top stories.

(Soundbite of radio program)

Mr. GEORGE KELLAS (Host): The first person of the 535 members of the United States Congress and Senate to be in the direct path of that large-growing snowball is Robert W. Ney.

HENDREN: Though the story is making headlines in the nation's capital, listeners in Ney's 18th Congressional District weren't that concerned about his ties to Jack Abramoff. They wanted to talk more about the accident at the Sago Mine in West Virginia. That feeling is shared by folks in Congressman Ney's hometown of Bellaire.

(Soundbite of town bell ringing)

HENDREN: The 51-year-old Ney grew up in this once-thriving blue-collar town where his parents still live. The son of a TV cameraman, Ney was the local public safety director before being elected at age 26 to the Ohio Legislature. Ney's been in Congress since 1995. He's a Republican who's been continually re-elected in this heavily Democratic county. Even among local Democratic leaders, it's hard to find critics. Mark Thomas is president of the Belmont County Commission.

Mr. MARK THOMAS (Belmont County Commission): He has been able to associate himself with his constituents on a regular basis. He's very visible. He's very accessible.

HENDREN: Congressman Ney has remained popular because he's brought millions of dollars to the district and has broken party lines to support coal miners and steelworkers. The area has suffered the loss of thousands of steelworker jobs.

Unidentified Man: The galvanize shop was right along here. We would galvanize our own pipe; load it on to barges or trains. They had orders for 15 years there, and it just dried up overnight.

HENDREN: Democrat William Shubat heads the Belmont County Board of Elections, but before that he worked at the now defunct steel mill just across the river.

Mr. WILLIAM SHUBAT (Belmont County Board of Elections): When all of the steel problems started to come and fall down around our feet, Bob Ney was there to work along with other congressmen, Democrat and Republican, but in a bipartisan manner.

HENDREN: But not everyone in Ohio is fully behind the congressman. The head of the state Democratic Party has called on Ney to resign his chairmanship of the House Administration Committee, and a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee condemned Ney as a leader of the Republicans' culture of corruption. Even so Democratic state Senator Charles Wilson says voters are waiting to see what happens.

State Senator CHARLES WILSON (Democrat, Ohio): I don't believe we should pass judgment until he's had his day, and he maintains his innocence, and, therefore, I think we should wait and see when he has his day in court and what he can say to defend himself.

HENDREN: The Justice Department is continuing its investigation of Congressman Ney. There's no word yet when it will be completed.

For NPR News, I'm Sam Hendren in Columbus.

CHADWICK: I'm Alex Chadwick. Stay with us on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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