Monday, November 06, 2000

Traficant, challengers hold stormy TV debate

By Thomas J. Sheeran
The Associated Press

        YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Embattled Congressman James A. Traficant Jr., a Democrat fighting for his political life, participated in a lively finger-pointing debate Saturday night that sometimes looked like a street corner argument.

        Mr. Traficant, seeking his ninth two-year term in Tuesday's election, faced Republican Paul Alberty and two Democrats running as independents, Randy Walter and Lou D'Apolito, in the debate sponsored by Youngstown television station WFMJ.

        The one-hour debate was extended 18 minutes with everyone's approval. The four debaters repeatedly interrupted one another, and the two moderators occa sionally held their hands up to restore order.

        Mr. Traficant, who has said he expects to be indicted in an FBI corruption investigation, defended himself and said he will serve as his own attorney if he is charged.

        “I've done nothing wrong,” he said.

        Asked by an anchor to elaborate, Mr. Traficant responded, “Are you hard of hearing? I've done nothing wrong, and I'm prepared to defend myself.”

        Mr. Alberty, who ran against Mr. Traficant two years ago, said Mr. Traficant has failed to devel op an economic development plan for the hard-pressed Mahoning Valley and added, “Now his job is staying out of prison.”

        Mr. Walter, a wealthy developer who has the best financed challenge against Mr. Traficant, said the region's reputation for corruption has driven away investors.

        Mr. Walter and Mr. D'Apolito confronted Mr. Traficant on the congressman's record for occasionally supporting the GOP in the House and his pledge to vote to re-elect Republican House Speaker Dennis Hastert in January.

        Mr. Traficant and Mr. Walter repeatedly pointed at each other over a narrow side table, with Mr. Traficant calling Mr. Walter rude and Mr. Walter responding that the congressman was a liar.


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