Monday, September 21, 2009

Learning From Youngstown

I'm going to break my promise and bring up James Traficant. I do so only to reference an interesting use of Youngstown as a model of best practice:

In America, a similar situation existed in Youngstown, Ohio, which in 1963 was described by the Saturday Evening Post as "Crime Town, U.S.A."

Youngstown "exemplifies the truism that rackets cannot survive without two basic conditions -- the sanction of police and politicians and an apathetic public," the Post wrote. It went on to say: "The time now has come for action on the part of the whole citizenry. Until each honest man is aroused, the cesspool will remain. And Youngstown will remain a shame to the nation."

A culture of corruption continued to infect the Youngstown area well into this decade. Its congressman of 17 years, a bombastic Democrat named Jim Traficant, went to federal prison in 2002 after a jury in Cleveland convicted him on 10 counts of bribery and racketeering. Traficant was released from prison two weeks ago.

Residents of Youngstown who wanted to change the culture -- and to stop electing politicians such as Traficant -- went to Sicily to examine how people in that country attacked the mafia.

The suggestion is for Juárez, Mexico to look at how Medellin, Colombia tackled its corruption problem just as Youngstown studied Sicily. Despite all the fretting about Traficant's release, the dominant image for a journalist in El Paso is how Youngstown put a stop to all the insanity. It is a story of success, not the past coming back to haunt the Mahoning Valley.

That's the Youngstown I know, the one on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine. As for the Saturday Evening Post, that is long gone. Crime City, U.S.A. is now Dreamer City, U.S.A.


  1. Did the lessons learned in Sicily have any effect on public policy in Youngstown? The feds primarily cleaned up the mafia around here, no?

  2. I'm no scholar about what transpired, but the perception of the journalist is clear:

    The public went from apathy to activism, which would assume an influence on public policy. I doubt the feds could clean up Youngstown on their own. Something in the culture has to change.