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James Traficant runs for Congress again, just months out of prison
February 23, 2010 7:20 PM   Subscribe

About 8 years ago, U.S. Representative James Traficant (D-Ohio) was sentenced to 8 years in jail for kickbacks, fraud, bribery, and racketeering. He was tightly connected with the Youngstown Ohio Mafia. At the time, he was only the second Congressman since the Civil War to be expelled by his peers from the institution in a vote of 420:1. The fascinating story of the Youngstown Mafia - and Traficant's rise and fall - is told by David Grann (of Lost City of Z and The New Yorker) in a 2000 article called "Crimetown, U.S.A.". Traficant was released from prison on September 2, 2009 to a hometown hero welcome. On February 23, 2010, Traficant announced he will running for Congress as an Independent.
posted by stbalbach (44 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
hair joke in 3...2...1...
posted by well_balanced at 7:22 PM on February 23, 2010


Eh. He's paid his debt to society. At least, he's paid more of it than the scores if not of hundreds of Congressional criminals who haven't gotten caught yet.
posted by Joe Beese at 7:31 PM on February 23, 2010


something something return of the Whig party?
posted by Bromius at 7:34 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


if by "debt to society" you mean "we gave him a time out for a few years" then yeah i am sure that's what happened.
posted by rebent at 7:47 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


It seems strange to me that convicted felons can run for office, but, well, Marion Barry and Alcee Hastings...

What's even more amazing is that anyone votes for them.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:49 PM on February 23, 2010


I might be a little crazy saying this but I'm not outraged about him getting his second chance. He might even perform better knowing he is a part of the system and that will follow him around.

Also, I might be a little crazy.
posted by deacon_blues at 7:50 PM on February 23, 2010


A friend of mine used to collect and write about the weirder little corners of Congress every two years, on a project that can best be described as a left-leaning factually-substantiated Drudge Report. Every time, he took especial delight in writing about what Jim Traficant was up to, because he was just so delightfully barking mad.

You have no idea how happy this makes me.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:50 PM on February 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just like Nelson Mandela.
posted by tellurian at 7:53 PM on February 23, 2010


Not like Mandela. (He wasn't convicted of taking bribes IIRC, as were Traficant, Barry, and Hastings.)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 7:56 PM on February 23, 2010


What's even more amazing is that anyone votes for them.
In 2002 he got 15% from behind bars.
posted by tellurian at 7:56 PM on February 23, 2010


It seems strange to me that convicted felons can run for office

We had this discussion a short while ago. If prisons are indeed places of rehab and paying your debt, then when you're released, it should be a Brand New Day. Prisoners who have served their time should not have to regster for anything, be prohibited from anything, and generally should have a chance to start anew.

If you don't agree with this, you should ask yourself what is wrong with the prison system that the men and women we send there to pay their debt emerge having not paid it. Because the "felon" system is "one strike, you're out"--you never get to participate in "normal" society again.
posted by maxwelton at 7:58 PM on February 23, 2010 [14 favorites]


He was tightly connected with the Youngstown Ohio Mafia.

I got a little thrill when I read this. There it is. The truth. Right out there. Talking like that is frowned upon in Ohio. Suggesting that one or another office holder is might have some connection with organized crime is enough to bring a conversation to halt amid a welter of sidelong glances and nervous coughs. Unfortunately, organized crime is the "dark matter" of Ohio politics. Nothing here makes sense, until you add "dark matter" into the equation. Then the numbers add up, and you see why the bozos who hold office hold office, and why they make the bozo decisions they make. But hey, the Cavs are doing pretty good, and heaven knows organized crime has no influence on professional sports.
posted by Faze at 8:03 PM on February 23, 2010 [8 favorites]


We had this discussion a short while ago. If prisons are indeed places of rehab and paying your debt, then when you're released, it should be a Brand New Day. Prisoners who have served their time should not have to regster for anything, be prohibited from anything, and generally should have a chance to start anew.

Totally agree. But what's odd is that he can *run,* while in many states he wouldn't be allowed to *vote.*
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:03 PM on February 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


It seems strange to me that convicted felons can run for office

It does, but consider that our elected officials are the very ones who decide what a felony is. When we attach various kinds of disenfranchisement to crime, we allow the politically powerful a kind of indirect control over who can join their ranks, instead of leaving the question entirely in the hands of the electorate.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:30 PM on February 23, 2010


There is a Youngstown Mafia. It is a thing that exists.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:30 PM on February 23, 2010


When I read the FPP, at first I thought, "Youngstown Mafia? Yeah, right. I drove through there once when I was moving from Brooklyn to Oklahoma; I don't even remember a single thing about the place except that my brother and I stayed there overnight because I knew we weren't going to make Chicago that night. Big time gangsters, you bet."

Except that, as I read the article, I realized that not only were they really big time gangsters but that they were still at the height of their power when we drove through in late 1994. Aside from the usual rackets, gangsters have been known to hit moving trucks in the hope of finding something good. It's not like my brother and I really knew which parts of town were "good", if that even applies here; we just drove around until we found a motel. That pop-pop of gunfire mentioned in the first part of "Crimetown U.S.A." could have been for us.

Small fuckin' world, my friends.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:30 PM on February 23, 2010


It seems strange to me that convicted felons can run for office

In 1798, Mathew Lyon of Vermont was elected to the US House while he was in prison. As it happens, he was imprisoned for violating the Alien and Sedition Acts, not a "real" crime, but the principle remains.

In addition to felons and actual prisoners, the Constitution also permits the insane, the mentally disabled, those not of good character, cannibals, drunkards, Reavers, and so on to run and serve. The only things the Constitution insists on are that you are 25, have been a US citizen for the requisite number of years, live in the state you represent, and have not been barred from federal office on account of impeachment and conviction.

This is in my estimation a good thing. If a district wants to be represented by a crook, if they look at the candidates and say "We want the sneaky crook and not the other one," why should some other bunch of people get to tell them they're wrong just because they elected an embarrassment?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:31 PM on February 23, 2010


Eugene Debs ran for president from behind bars...but then he was a political prisoner. This guy, not so much.

As far as a "Brand New Day" idea - I guess I'm ok with it, considering all the other pols just take bribes in more convoluted ways. It'd be nicer if instead of doing the little rituals that make it okay for interests to give congresscritters money, we legalized bribery with the stipulation that every bribe needs to be announced publicly in straightforward language ("Congressman Smith accepted a $3000 bribe from the health insurance lobby today...").
posted by graymouser at 8:36 PM on February 23, 2010


Eh. He's paid his debt to society. At least, he's paid more of it than the scores if not of hundreds of Congressional criminals who haven't gotten caught yet.

Equating kickbacks, fraud, bribery, and racketeering with people making political decisions you disagree with doesn't really advance the process.

A person such as James Traficant is not suitable for the office of United States Congressman. Therefore, I urge all within his district to vote against him.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:49 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love how Traficant says his father ("a truck driver") is "rolling over in his grave" at the lack of bipartisanship in Washington. I guess his father's not rolling over in his grave about his son's various crimes and misdemeanors.
posted by blucevalo at 9:26 PM on February 23, 2010


Seriously? This many comments and still not a single "beam me up!" joke?

MetaFilter, you disappoint me. Beam me up!
posted by The World Famous at 9:43 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


So it's only voting in elections that is a problem for a convict? Congress is fine? That's priceless.
posted by pompomtom at 9:53 PM on February 23, 2010


PomPomTom, he is probably also forbidden to own a firearm.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 10:32 PM on February 23, 2010


“When I get out I will grab a sword like Maximus Meridius Demidius and as a gladiator I will stab people in the crotch.”
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:53 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not like Mandela. (He wasn't convicted of taking bribes IIRC, as were Traficant, Barry, and Hastings.)

not to derail the places this'll go (oh!) or anything but – Barry's never been convicted of taking bribes. misdemeanor drug charges? yes. caught at tax evasion? yup. this weird thing with the woman he was dating, and then inappropriately awarding contracts to, and then stalking? sure, although there's no conviction for anything, yet. but bribes? nope.
posted by The Bridge on the River Kai Ryssdal at 11:05 PM on February 23, 2010


Prisoners who have served their time should not have to regster for anything, be prohibited from anything

No, there has to be a line somewhere. For fuck's sake, a man who has been convicted of taking bribes while in office should not be allowed to run for office again. It's not like it's some unrelated incident from his past. I agree with you that things like sex offender registries are bullshit, but don't extrapolate ad absurdum.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:45 PM on February 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


That said, I've always had an odd sort of respect for Traficant as the last of the old-school crook politicians. In this world of scary Illuminati-style crooks like Dick Cheney, a good old sleazeball with a bad toupee who takes bribes from the mob almost seems refreshingly old-timey.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:47 PM on February 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


For some reason, whenever I think of James Traficant, I think of the elephant from Meet The Feebles.
posted by Afroblanco at 12:17 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Equating kickbacks, fraud, bribery, and racketeering with people making political decisions you disagree with doesn't really advance the process.

LOL.
posted by delmoi at 12:34 AM on February 24, 2010


It seems strange to me that convicted felons can run for office

Paging Mayor Curley. Mayor Curley, please pick up the red courtesy phone.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 3:05 AM on February 24, 2010


“When I get out I will grab a sword like Maximus Meridius Demidius and as a gladiator I will stab people in the crotch.”

Don't remind him. That's gotta smart.
posted by pracowity at 3:36 AM on February 24, 2010


For some reason, whenever I think of James Traficant, I think of the elephant from Meet The Feebles.

Someone would have to have my brain to understand why I utterly love you for this observation, but -- I really, really do.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:08 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Barry's never been convicted of taking bribes. misdemeanor drug charges? yes.

"Bitch set me up!"
posted by kirkaracha at 5:52 AM on February 24, 2010


Barry is still at it. From today's Post.
posted by Pollomacho at 6:14 AM on February 24, 2010


"I see the Democrats are completely controlled by foreign interests and big lobbying money. The republicans are too, but the democrats more so. I hypocritically cannot accept that," Traficant also told CNN.

Best campaign slogan ever
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 7:33 AM on February 24, 2010 [1 favorite]


Two observations:

One, an almost obligatory "well I guess he only knows 2 things, crime and politics, oh, well make that one thing I guess".

-and-

It strikes me as hell perverse that the so many elected officials where lawyers (~43% US Reps, ~50% Sen, ~43% presidents) before holding office, because lawyers routinely score near the bottom of all professions for being happy. So, in essence roughly half of who we elect are predisposed to be surly, unhappy, (mostly) white men. It's no wonder we all hate congress.


(yes, I know, lawyers probably get elected because their jobs provide the high income flexibility that allows them some degree of financial freedom to run, serve and then return to the workforce easily if defeated down the road)
posted by edgeways at 8:06 AM on February 24, 2010


Barry is still at it. From today's Post.

It's too bad he's such a fuckup. He's a former civil rights activist (first chairman of the SNCC), strong advocate for DC home rule, and Eagle Scout.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:18 AM on February 24, 2010


He still is a civil rights activist, and his current work is very apropos to this thread.
posted by sciurus at 8:28 AM on February 24, 2010


I got a little thrill when I read this. There it is. The truth. Right out there. Talking like that is frowned upon in Ohio. Suggesting that one or another office holder is might have some connection with organized crime is enough to bring a conversation to halt amid a welter of sidelong glances and nervous coughs. Unfortunately, organized crime is the "dark matter" of Ohio politics.

Hell yes, Faze. (Native Clevelander here, currently living in the city of, not the 'burbs).

It's hilarious to me how het up everyone's gotten over that recent Forbes article ("America's Most Miserable Cities," hint hint we're #1!). Wah wah wah that writer was MEAN. Umm, no. Suck it up, city-mates. That writer was right. Among the factors on their "Misery Index" was public corruption:
Cleveland ranked near the bottom when looking at corruption. Northern Ohio has seen 309 public officials convicted of crimes over the past 10 years according to the Justice Department. A current FBI investigation of public officials in Cuyahoga County (where Cleveland is located) has ensnared more than two dozen government employees and businessmen on charges including bribery, fraud and tax evasion.
When Jimmy Dimora, one of our county commissioners, had his office and house raided a little while ago, the jokes were practically already written. Oh, and he's leaving his office as the party Democratic chief temporarily while the federal investigation continues? WTF, Cleveland. WTF Cuyahoga County.

It's as if we've got our heads so far up our asses we can't even notice when a serial killer's on the loose.

So yeah, we're pretty much crazy von mafiapants corruptionland, like it or not. At least Traficant is amusing. And I pray Dimora and his ilk all have to serve as much prison time or more.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 8:49 AM on February 24, 2010


I used to have to read the Congressional Record every day for my job. I awaited each Traficant one-minute speech with eagerness. What the hell would he talk about today? I photocopied my favorites and stuck them up on my door. I don't remember most of them, but I remember his defense of the women's soccer team who took off their shirts and had a picture taken at one of the monuments. "Gentlemen, leave these foxy ladies alone!"

Absurd. Insane. Cracked me the hell up, every day.
posted by cereselle at 10:15 AM on February 24, 2010


Yeah, better a total loon who loves women taking off their shirts than half the people we've got now, cereselle.

Maybe he'll help Orly Taitz with her plea to the UN or something (speaking of KA-razee).
posted by bitter-girl.com at 10:19 AM on February 24, 2010


What can a person even say about something like this? All I can think of is "yes."

Yes, this is Youngstown. Every time I see a new article about the Youngstown/Warren area, it feels just like everyone's talking about my family. They're still there, shoveling snow all winter long, blinking up at flat grey skies, wearing their St. Christopher medallions and standing up for Traficant and the mafia because there is literally nothing else to be proud of.

The best quote in the Crimetown USA article (a name all kids in Youngstown know, incidentally) is from the Youngstown State anthropologist:

"We don't see high ideals as being a benefit," he explains. "We see [them] as being a weakness. There is no sense in this community in which gangsters are people who have imposed their will on our community. Their values are our values."
posted by harperpitt at 10:28 AM on February 24, 2010


I first met Jim Traficant when I was maybe 9 or 10, at a union event with my father - it might have even been at Youngstown State. I thought he was weird and gross then; he made some fart joke to my younger brother which may have actually included Traficant passing gas. And that was before he ran for Congress - I think he might have still been sheriff. Everyone knew how hooked up he was, even then. And yet, he got elected to Congress.

I've followed him on and off over the years; when he was sent to prison, I just laughed because everyone who'd been paying attention knew it would happen eventually.

I do have to admit, the man has balls of steel, so him deciding to run again doesn't surprise me in the least. And I'm sure he will get some non-trivial number of votes.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 12:38 PM on February 24, 2010


He was tightly connected with the Youngstown Ohio Mafia.

Being connected to the Mafia seems so quaint these days.
posted by telstar at 6:00 PM on February 24, 2010


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