YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – Former Valley congressman Jim Traficant died Saturday as a result of injuries he sustained in a tractor accident at his daughter’s farm in Greenford Tuesday evening.
Family spokeswoman Heidi Hanni confirmed Traficant’s death and said that funeral arrangements are pending.
The man who many saw as representing the little guy grew up like many boys in the Valley. As a teenager, Jim Traficant played football for Mooney High School in the late 50’s. Wearing the number 70, he went on to play at University of Pittsburgh and even tried out for the Steelers. Eventually he returned to his hometown working as a drug counselor before running for Mahoning County Sheriff in 1980. In an interview years later, he admitted regretting that.
“I wish I had not run for sheriff because of what it has done,” Traficant said.
In 1983, Traficant was put on trial in federal court for taking more than $100,000 from local mobsters. He claimed he was trying to conduct his own sting operation and didn’t trust the FBI. He decided to defend himself instead of hiring an attorney and after eight weeks of testimony and four days of deliberations, jurors returned a not guilty verdict. The victory in court launched Traficant to even greater heights.
In 1984 voters sent Traficant to Congress where he stayed for more than 17 years becoming known just as much for his irreverence as he was for fighting for the Valley.
His quips were the subject of amusement, but they let people know he was down to earth and endeared him to his supporters. “My throat is sore.” “I’m having some rectal disorders as a matter of fact.” “I do my hair with a weed whacker, I admit,” are just some of Traficant’s famous quotes.
At one point a magazine in Washington listed Traficant as a fashion victim because of that hair and those bell bottoms and cowboy boots. He spent his days in D.C. living on a houseboat, but the Department of Justice had its eye on Traficant too and he knew it.
“I was the number one target since ’83. They couldn’t live with it,” Traficant said.
In 2002, Traficant was indicted once again on bribery and other charges. Among the charges were accusations that he had contractors remodel his farm house in Green Township for free and that his staff did work at the farm without pay. As he had during the first trial, Traficant chose to defend himself. Ten years later he told WKBN First News reporter Gerry Riccuitti why.
“Jesus Christ couldn’t have won that trial. That trial was set up,” Traficant said.
Traficant was ultimately convicted on all counts and spent seven years in prison. Some of that time was in solitary confinement. However, here at home he remained popular enough to pull 30,000 votes when he ran again for Congress from behind bars in 2002.
Traficant also took up painting horse while in prison and launched his idea to pen a book.
After his release, the book “American’s Last Minuteman” was published. The book contained a number of his one-minute speeches from Congress. Traficant admitted he didn’t miss Washington all that much calling it a “big phony place.”
For a brief time, Traficant turned his stature into a brief radio career hosting talk shows in the area as well as in Cleveland – never losing that irreverent sense of humor.
“I’m not playing with you today. I am going to tell it like it is. Put the hay where the goats can get it,” Traficant said while promoting his talk show.
While Traficant’s legacy will include funding for two federal courthouses, the Covelli Centre in Youngstown and a wing of C-130s at the air station in Vienna, he may be best remembered for how he treated those he knew. Friendly, approachable and always willing to talk, a conversation with Traficant was always full of surprises.
“Beam me up Scotty; there is no intelligent life down here. Take care.”