Jewish World Review August 31, 2004 / 15 Elul, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Truth-telling, at long last | All professions have occupational hazards. In mine, the danger is cynicism. Spend a lifetime around politics and you begin to doubt the sincerity of the average hands-on practitioner. Lately, all this Bush-is-the-Devil and the Democrats-are-Evil rhetoric has me doubting their sanity as well.

But just when I was about to conclude that all is lost, along came a fresh-faced figure whose unblinking candor and old-fashioned perspective are as inspiring as they are reassuring.

I refer to Honest George McKelvey, mayor of Youngstown, Ohio.

McKelvey is a life-long Democrat. But last Tuesday he broke with orthodoxy and astonished the world with a ringing endorsement of President Bush.

Youngstown is a very Democratic city in the heart of the very Democratic 17th Congressional District of Ohio. Party loyalty is highly prized there and defections punished. Even favorite son James Trafficant, running for Congress in 2002 as a breakaway Independent, got only 15% of the vote and lost to a Democrat (of course Trafficant was in prison at the time, but incarceration isn't necessarily an electoral disqualifier in Ohio's Mahoning Valley).

Unlike other Democratic ship-jumpers (Ed Koch and Georgia Sen. Zell Miller come to mind) McKelvey is not a national figure, nor is he moved by great issues. He supports the war in Iraq, but so, evidently, does John Kerry. If McKelvey has strong feelings about international economics or American social policy, he hasn't expressed them. His concerns are less high flown.

"I'm still waiting for someone to show me what we've gotten in this valley for delivering 70% of the vote to the Democrats over the last 120 years," he told reporters last week. "Are we not the most depressed valley in Ohio, if not in the country?"

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McKelvey's question, undiluted by hypocrisy or cant, is the pure stuff of politics. Are you better off today than you were 120 years ago?

Some national reporters have been disconcerted by this rationale. Judy Woodruff of CNN, for example, asked in a tone of wonderment how McKelvey could expect Bush to help him and Youngstown in a second term.

McKelvey's answer was so direct, so blunt and so completely honest that I am putting in italics:

Early in 2005, decisions are going to be made about closing an air base adjacent to us that provides thousands of jobs and a $100 million payroll. The competing air base is in Pittsburgh, Pa.

Now ... I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I can figure out that there's a Heinz Field in Pittsburgh and there is a ketchup made in Pittsburgh, and if John Kerry is President of the United States, I know which base is going to close. It's the one outside Youngstown. So all politics is local. I'm working for Youngstown.


Mayor McKelvey has let it be known that, while he has no intention of switching parties, he will attend the Republican convention. He is even ready to give a speech.

I hope they let him. New York - both inside Madison Square Garden and on the streets - is brimming over right now with self-righteous crusaders for one higher cause or another.

We need Honest George McKelvey to remind us all that the politics of this country are not, despite all the overheated rhetoric, really a life-and-death struggle between the forces of Good and Evil. They are (and thank God they are) mostly a battle between Pittsburgh and Youngstown over whose air base gets shut down.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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