Former Ohio Democratic congressman James Traficant, fresh off a seven-year prison term for a bribery and racketeering conviction, says he's ready to run for Congress again and has filed paperwork to make it official.
Traficant, 68, registered Monday to run as an independent in his home district in northeast Ohio, which is currently represented by Democrat and former Traficant aide Rep. Tim Ryan. He has not yet raised campaign funds or hired campaign staff.
The Youngstown, Ohio, native told The Associated Press Monday he believes he can win.
"Maybe it's time money doesn't dictate an election," he said.
Traficant, known for his flamboyant appearance and fiery political speeches, served nine terms -- nearly 20 years -- representing Ohio's 17th congressional district. He was convicted in 2002 and later expelled from the House of Representatives.
After filing his petition with the Trumbull County election board yesterday, Traficant told the Youngstown Vindicator that he's been ready for a political comeback since first walking out of prison last year with a new look.
"I was dressed in drag, and I walked right on that bus, right in front of all the press and came straight home," he said. "I wanted them to know there's always a side in politics that is most unusual. And not always what you see is what you get."
Traficant has been outspoken about his imprisonment in the months since his release, appearing on a number of national television and radio talk shows.
"Nelson Mandela said if you really want to know the truth about a nation, you've got to go through their prisons," Traficant told Fox News. "Believe me, he's right. And I learned an awful lot about America going through the prisons."
Supporters of Traficant have long held that he was the target of a government conspiracy -- even though a jury found him guilty on 10 counts, including bribery, filing false income tax returns, obstruction of justice, conspiracy to defraud the United States and racketeering.
"I'd be the first one to support him" if he ran for office, said Linda Kovachik, a friend and former Traficant staffer. "And I think people are going to realize he really got the royal screwing and that his conviction was unjust."
John Green, political science professor at the University of Akron, said the resurgence in support for Traficant represents "nostalgia for the high point of Jim's career but also nostalgia for the Youngstown of 30 years ago."
Many parts of northeastern Ohio have struggled economically since the 1970s, when widespread closures of steel plants dealt a blow to the area once known as Steel Valley.
"In many ways, [Traficant] represents the anger people have for the economic changes that have swept through the area," Green said.
Traficant a Viable Candidate for Ohio House Seat?
Bertram de Souza, a longtime political reporter for the Youngstown Vindicator who has known Traficant for more than 30 years, says many former steel workers and other blue collar workers and retirees are drawn to "the power of [Traficant's] personality that is still there, and that blinds people to his reality."
"He does have vocal supporters," says de Souza, "but there's a silent majority out there that'd rather he go away."
Still, those detractors haven't deterred Traficant from pursuing a return to Congress.
"I'm going to have a lot of opposition.. but quite frankly, I don't give a damn," Traficant told CNN. "You know, beam me up, I'm ready if I decide to run."
Technically, Traficant is eligible to run for election and hold national office.
According to a 2008 study by the Congressional Research Service, "indictment for or conviction of a felony" and "congressional censure or expulsion" are not disqualifiers for holding future political office.
Whatever Traficant decides, strategists say the political landscape in eastern Ohio has changed since Traficant left office and that voters may have lost their appetite for Traficant's political showmanship.
"His prospects for running -- and running successfully -- are really dim," said Green.
"I think we've moved on [in this congressional district]," said de Souza. "We've had about 70 elected officials who've corrupted local government and have been convicted. 'Thinking people' have realized we have to change."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.