(CNSNews.com) - Longtime Ohio Democratic Congressman James Traficant, estranged from the House Democratic leadership and currently on trial for alleged racketeering, says he will run for re-election but this time as an Independent.
If he had decided to run as a Democrat, Traficant would have faced a May 7 primary election challenge from Rep. Tom Sawyer in Ohio's newly drawn 17th Congressional District, which encompasses the Youngstown area.
At the beginning of the 107th Congress, Traficant angered Democratic colleagues in the House by voting for Republican Rep. Dennis Hastert of Illinois as Speaker of the House instead of Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt of Missouri. The Democratic leadership then stripped Traficant of all committee assignments.
Now, Traficant finds himself on trial in federal court in Cleveland, defending himself on 10 criminal counts, including bribery and racketeering. The trial began Feb. 5 and is expected to last at least another six weeks.
The trial was a big factor in Traficant's decision to seek re-election as an Independent, according to his congressional chief of staff Charlie Straub.
"He is going to be in Cleveland for the next two months and unable to campaign. He has come out and said it would be very difficult to mount a primary campaign while he is on federal trial, especially running in a new district," said Straub.
Straub also said Traficant has "recognized the fact that this will give the voters an opportunity to make sound ballot box decisions in the Democratic primary without the confusion of the on-going federal trial."
With Traficant running only in the general election, Straub said, voters will be able to make up their minds based on the outcome of the trial. "So, I think he's doing the voters a favor as well," Straub concluded.
Several Democrats have announced their candidacies for the Democratic nomination. Sawyer is seeking his ninth term in Congress.
The Democratic primary winner will face Ohio Republican state Representative Ann Womer Benjamin.
Traficant was first elected to Congress in 1984 after serving four years as sheriff in Mahoning County, Ohio.
During his stint as a sheriff, Traficant was indicted on bribery charges. He later admitted taking bribes from mobsters to overlook local gambling, loan sharking, drug trafficking and prostitution, but argued that this was his own "sting"operation. Traficant was tried in 1983, defended himself and persuaded the jury to find him not guilty.
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