Jim Traficant's Release From Prison Evokes Strong Emotions in Youngstown

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, September 7, 2009

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio, Sept. 6 -- The Elvis impersonator had ceded the stage, and the toupee contest was over.

The main act appeared to thunderous applause, looking pretty plucky for a guy who had just spent seven years in prison.

"I plan to get right back in it!" boomed James Traficant, the former Democratic U.S. congressman from Ohio's 17th District, announcing to 1,200 cheering supporters Sunday that he just might still have a little of the old magic under that memorable rug.

Just as in his heyday, Traficant promised that he'd take on the federal government that he said "cheated" to put him behind bars for racketeering and bribery. As the crowd shouted "Run for Senate," he trashed the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and caused a frenzy when he proclaimed: "If we can take care of people all over the world, damn it, we can take care of our people here!"

Jimbo is back.

Calling himself "a congressman and a convict," Traficant, released Wednesday from prison, invoked imprisoned Nelson Mandela and said, "I know America" better because of his years behind bars.

The more Traficant talked, the more people pressed toward him for autographs. He looked fit. A friend described his new hair as a "partial toupee." He had cut off the ponytail he grew in prison, and was wearing a vest and his trademark skinny tie.

Nobody at this welcome-home party in suburban Youngstown's Mr. Anthony's Banquet Center cared that the U.S. Congress voted 420 to 1 to expel him. Bunch of Washington elites -- who trusts 'em?

"I think he still feels he has a mission," said John Brown, 73, a retiree in the crowd who used to own a steel company. He said he believes Traficant was "wrongfully accused. I never thought our legal system could get this low."

Looking around the packed hall where everyone sat eating meatballs and chicken and listening to Elvis songs (a Traficant favorite) and Patsy Cline, he said: "I don't think all of these people are screwballs."

"He is the only one in Youngstown who ever says what he means," said Glenn Davies, 41, who pressed his "Welcome Home Jimbo" T-shirt into Traficant's hands for his signature. "I am going to hang this on the wall of my car wash."

Jimbo once called the Internal Revenue Service the "Internal Rectal Service." They're still talking about that one -- gotta love a guy who tells it like it is. Saturday, a few days after walking out of prison, he called Denny Malloy's radio show and complained that because of his "ordeal" he can't even carry a gun to go turkey hunting. What kind of an upside-down country won't let a guy like Jimbo go turkey hunting?

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