Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Beyond Traficant: New Politics in the Mahoning Valley

Jim Traficant’s return to the Mahoning Valley has been getting a lot of attention in the last couple of weeks. While his story matters, in all the hoopla, we seem to be forgetting that he’s just one of dozens of local officials who were convicted of some form of political corruption in the late 1990s. So invited political scientist and commentator Bill Binning in to talk about how the local political landscape has changed in the last decade.

Did the FBI sweep and efforts by local groups such as the Citizen’s League and ACTION work? Binning says yes, for the most part. Local politics these days rely less on pay-offs and promises. Some of that is about all of the attention we paid in the 90s, and some of it, Binning suggests, can be credited to the growth of state-sponsored gambling, which took away some of the funding that drove organized crime in the area. The mob just doesn’t have the money to control much anymore.

We also have a lot of new personnel. While a few local politicians have been in one office or another for a couple of decades, many new faces are occupying seats in city, county, and state government, as well as representing us in Washington. Binning applauds the efforts of Congressman Tim Ryan to bring federal money to the Valley as well as simply representing us well. And he says he’s interested to see how recently-elected Mahoning County Democratic Chair David Betras will handle endorsements and other issues.

As always, talking about politics with Bill is entertaining and thought-provoking. And it’s encouraging to hear someone who’s been following local politics for years confirm that, yes, things are really different now.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What remains the same is a general level of incompetence (Dr. Webb etc.) and a lack of any kind of economic strategy. What else is new? The area continues to lose both jobs, and with it, a viable tax base.

Youngstown's real problem now is disorganized crime. The drug trade has made sure that brutal violence is still a regular occurrence on our city streets. Very few businesses will want to relocate to an urban war zone, regardless of tax abatements.