Political Signs, or Lack Thereof, at a Fish Fry

BOARDMAN, Ohio — The line extended into the parking lot as it does every year on the last Friday in October when the Western Reserve Building Trades Council holds its annual fish fry at Operating Engineers union hall on McClurg Road. Standing behind us as we waited to buy our tickets was Youngstown Mayor John McNally, who is supporting Hillary Clinton (despite being shunned at her campaign events). In front of us stood Mahoning County Commissioner Anthony Traficanti (who wouldn’t come if he was invited).

“Are you backing Donald Trump,” I asked Traficanti.

“I’ll tell you after the election is over. In the meantime I’ll let you guess,” he said.


Traficanti smiled and winked.

Even if he hadn’t been an aide to Jim Traficant (and subpoenaed by the prosecution to testify in the former congressman’s second criminal trial), it’s obvious that Traficanti would have an affinity for the Republican presidential nominee whose outspokenness brings to mind his former boss. It’s also obvious that other local candidates would prefer not to alienate the former Traficant voters who plan to vote for Trump.

Just look at the political signs for Democrats seeking countywide and legislative offices planted in clusters along well-traveled roads. Nowhere in the mix do you see a Clinton-Kaine sign. Not even outside the Operating Engineers union hall, site of the building trades’ annual fundraiser that nearly every officeholder in the Mahoning Valley, Democrat and Republican, makes it a priority to attend.

So it was this presidential election year, one when the attitudes of the Valley’s working-class voters have been examined – exhaustively — by national and international news organizations. Indeed, my notions were preconceived as we arrived at the fish fry. The lack of a Clinton-Kaine sign out front would signal the split I would find inside, I assumed.

But it didn’t.

“I went to the Clinton headquarters three times to get a sign and they told me they didn’t have any,” explained one of the labor leaders.

OK, what about the fact that the crowd, which I estimated at about 800, did not quiet down to listen when U.S. Secretary of Labor Tom Perez was making his pitch for Clinton? It seemed like they didn’t want to hear it, I observed.

No, they’re always like this, labor and political leaders assured. They’re too busy eating fish and drinking beer.

Really? The secretary of labor speaking about prevailing wage, collective bargaining rights, why the very essence of the labor movement is threatened should Donald Trump get to appoint the next Supreme Court justice? Perez had to shout into his microphone to be heard over the noise in the union hall.

“This is the most polite I’ve ever seen them,” U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, told me.

Ryan introduced Perez, repeating many of the lines he used Oct. 5 when Bill Clinton came to the union hall.

“He’s got two faces,” he said of Trump. “He’s got a long history of not paying his workers, and he’s been sued 4,000 times.”

Earlier Friday, Ryan was being interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN about the state of the presidential race in Ohio when the news broke that FBI Director Jim Comey had notified congressional Republicans and Democrats that he was reviewing more emails that might – or might not – be related to Hillary Clinton’s use of a private server when she was secretary of state. In a subsequent interview on MSNBC, Ryan responded, “Most people are going to roll their eyes and it’s just going to be another story about emails.”

Chuck Todd then questioned Ryan about Trump’s apparent popularity in Youngstown given the number of Democrats crossing over to vote for him in the Ohio Republican Primary.

While Trump’s positions on trade may have “initially resonated” with some voters, the “flirtation” ended once the Clinton campaign countered that Trump failed to pay the tradesmen who built his buildings, Ryan said, and mentioned the fish fry he was about to attend with “1,000 skilled tradesmen.”

Perez echoed the arguments at the fish fry and in brief interviews with local TV stations and The Business Journal.

“Donald Trump buys his steel in China,” he declared.

“Donald Trump is a big job creator in China because he makes his products there. He’s a big job creator in Mexico, in Bangladesh. Here’s a guy who purports he’s going to bring jobs back. Why doesn’t he start with his own company over which he has total control?”

Perez noted Clinton’s promise to establish “ a trade prosecutor” to ensure no country dumps its products here. When pressed, he conceded that Clinton’s trade message does not resonate with a portion of the Democratic electorate.

“When people are angry, there are some folks who think, ‘Hey, I’m going to blow it up.’

“You’re angry and you’re also very smart and that’s why I love this Valley,” Perez said. “People here are very smart, and they’ll channel their anger productively.”

What will that mean when the votes are counted? Will Clinton reach 55% in Mahoning County? I asked Ryan.

“I think she’ll do a bit better than that,” he said.

Watching our interview was a veteran Democratic officeholder who earlier offered his own assessment.

“Trump will win Mahoning County because of the old Traficant voters,” he predicted.

Traficanti, had he been in earshot, would have winked.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.