Former Rep. James Traficant, who was recently released from prison after serving seven years for corruption, said Thursday that he is "proud of being an ex-con" and may try to return to Congress.
Traficant, a Democrat who was elected to nine terms from Youngstown before he was kicked out of the House, said he will circulate nominating petitions in three House districts. He didn't specify which, but the three districts closest to his hometown are all held by Democrats.
He deflected a question on whether he would run next year as a Democrat, Republican or independent, saying that would be decided in time.
Traficant said some supporters have suggested that he run for president. "I have more of a national following than I realize," said Traficant, who didn't rule out a White House run.
He said he will decide on his political plans next month. He discussed his options at a news conference at which he pitched the idea of a Youngstown-area casino run by Native Americans. The required tribal status is pending, he said.
Traficant, in a wide-ranging news conference streamed live in Youngstown, displayed his typical freewheeling style, alleging prosecutorial misconduct in his case, criticizing Ohio for omitting Youngstown from a November ballot issue that approved casinos in four bigger cities, and denouncing an old nemesis, the Internal Revenue Service.
Traficant offered to help anyone facing scrutiny from the IRS and laughed at his self-described role as ex-con ex-congressman. "I'm proud of being an ex-con, by the way," he said.
He was released in September after serving time for racketeering, bribery, obstruction of justice and tax evasion.
Traficant, whose wild hair contributed to an offbeat reputation, was convicted in a raucous trial in 2002 of bribery and racketeering for accepting bribes from businessmen and taking kickbacks from staff members. He then was expelled from Congress, only the second House member since the Civil War to be ousted for unethical conduct.
Although he's not a lawyer, Traficant defended himself at his trial but didn't testify. His self-defense led to frequent clashes with the judge over what questions might be asked and how.
His conviction would not bar Traficant from running for Congress. Traficant ran for re-election from prison, losing to U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who still represents Youngstown in Congress.
Traficant's associates have mentioned the possibility of him running in Ryan's district or the district held by Charlie Wilson, which stretches from the Youngstown suburbs south along the Ohio River, The Vindicator newspaper of Youngstown reported.
Messages seeking comment were left Thursday for Ryan, Wilson and John Boccieri, a former Youngstown-area state lawmaker whose congressional district includes Canton.