Jim Traficant and Somebody - Not Me

I’d like to be able to tell you that today, on this first day of freedom for former Congressman Jim Traficant, I have a chest full of war stories about Jimbo and me when I was a reporter in Youngstown.

Some of my former colleagues, as well as my husband, have a boat load of Traficant stories, some involving butt pinching, big tight hugs, late night stakeouts of mafia bagmen, and other shenanigans.

But not me. I was too busy covering Weathersfield Township trustees and their quest to put a new storm sewer drain on Niles-Canfield Road. I had my share of good stories: I covered George Bush and Ronald Reagan, got to go to the White House, and (drum roll, please) got to interview Phyllis Diller. But I was never a blip on Traficant’s radar screen. I covered a few of his press conferences, but just not enough to get my rear end felt up or even singled out with a quip like, “Hey big guy” or “Beam me up” or “I’ve got a train to run.”

So I decided to celebrate Traficant’s release from the federal pen by reprinting some choice quotes. But upon looking them up, I found the motherlode in one single speech - his final speech in the House of Representatives. Shortly after the address, when he still refused to quit, the House voted 420 to 1 to expel Traficant. And then he went to prison.

* * *

“Am I different? Yeah. Have I changed my pants? No. Deep down my colleagues know they want to wear wider bottoms; they are just not secure enough to do it. I do wear skinny ties. Yeah, wide ties make me look heavier than I am and I am heavy enough. Do I do my hair with a weed whacker? I admit.”

* * * Still quoting from the speech before the full House. Of Representatives.

“They asked me to walk around the back of the car. They asked me to do my ABCs. They asked me to do this with all four fingers on both hands, and they asked me to stand and put my foot in front of my right, take nine steps, stop, turn and return. Then they asked me to lift my right knee, with my left foot on the ground and count to thirty. Try that. Then they said reverse, put your right foot on the ground, pick your left knee up, count to thirty, and I did that, and they said would you mind a breathalyzer. I said knock yourself out. I was .001.

"Here is what I asked them: Did the FBI tell you that was my car and ask you to see if you can get a DUI on me? They looked at each other real funny, and I cannot tell my colleagues exactly what I told them because of House decorum, but I told them if I find out it is an FBI agent that did it, I will tear his throat out, and if they lied to me, I would come back to them and tear their throats out.”

* * * Okay, I’m just checking in, making sure you all are aware that this is a Congressman of 17 years, speaking before the real House of Representatives and C-Span cameras.

“They went back fifteen years on a horse transaction I had in Uhrichsville, Ohio, George Hooker. They could not find one citizen to say Jim Traficant bought a pencil for cash. Now look, if you drink five gallons of Gatorade, you are going to expend five gallons of Gatorade somewhere in one of these restrooms. You know what you have before you? We are getting to the point where a RICO case is going to be brought against a group of housewives for conspiring to buy Kellogg's cereal.”

* * * Me again! Still the speech before the House. Of Representatives. Of the United States. Of America.

“Now, let's talk about Tony Bucci. His fourth plea agreement, his brother in Cuba, fled the country on a fugitive warrant, they sentenced him to six weeks arrest, and here is what he said. He did $12,000 worth of work at the Traficant farm, and he owned me. Now, not all of you know me personally, but if you think someone owned me, you would throw me the hell out of here.”

* * * And in closing, let me reiterate, he was expelled 420-1 and sent to prison.

His supporters in Youngstown today are busy drinking champagne and throwing parties and tying yellow ribbons ‘round the old oak trees. Nobody thought to go pick him up from the prison, though. The Vindicator had a whole story about the odds of whether he would fly or take a Greyhound bus from prison to home. He got into a taxi. His wife was home and his supporters were on their third bottle of champagne. (“I wonder where he is?” “Weren’t you supposed to go pick him up?” “No, I thought you were!”)

“We’re so glad he’s coming back and hope he’s doing well,” one of his supporters told a Vindicator reporter. Then she said what everyone always says about Jim Traficant: “He did a lot of good things for this area. He stood up for working people.” That’s true, if you think that a good thing for the area is to alienate yourself from every politician inside and outside of the Beltway and be left committee-less, friendless, and unable to get as much as a new Dunkin Donuts in your district.

I’ll give him this: He was responsible for drumming up support for a Saturn plant in Youngstown. We didn’t get the plant, but somebody wrote a song called “Rally ‘Round the Valley” that has been stuck in my head for 23 years.

Youngstowners have a soft spot in their hearts for Traficant supporters. How can you not think this is adorable - here’s a comment posted at the end of the Vindy.com story about Traficant’s release:

“Though his ethics got in the way basicly Jim is a good decent man. He’s no different than the liars that are in there now.”

Beam me up.

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