For a town whose local newspaper was called the Vindicator, appropriately, its most famous resident was a defiant politician, James Traficant. Traficant's plastered hair and huge sideburns made him memorable from photos taken outside his many court battles. In the early 1980s, Traficant became the first person to beat a federal racketeering rap without a lawyer, despite the fact that the Feds had a signed confession from Traficant and tapes of him assuring the mob, "You're just like family to me." Traficant claimed he was conducting his own "sting."
"Jim's the guy pointing our middle finger at Washington," said a local radio-talk-show host. "Youngstown's getting slaughtered, but the attitude is, we're going down defiantly in a blaze of glory." After the Internal Revenue Service forced Traficant to pay $180,000 in back taxes, he crafted a 1998 bill that severely curtailed the IRS's powers. Traficant's legend grew when he spent three days in jail for refusing to enforce foreclosure orders against local unemployed homeowners. He had been elected to eight terms.
As a reaction, some locals organized the reform-minded Youngstown Citizens League. The FBI beefed up the number of agents in Youngstown. The FBI Mob specialist assigned to the beat said, "This community is probably more involved in politics than any place I've ever seen. Everybody has an opinion and everybody voices it." In 2002, Traficant was finally found guilty, but the tangible effects of public corruption and incompetence linger everywhere in the Mahoning Valley. The state took over the city schools. Roads were potholed. Accused murderers were allegedly freed because they paid off judges and lawyers. George McKelvey, Youngstown's mayor since 1998, said, "The cancer came close to destroying this community."
The Mahoning County Courthouse is adorned with the words "where law ends tyranny begins."