Former U.S. Congressman James Traficant (D-OH) was released from federal prison today after serving seven years for racketeering, bribery and other corruption charges. Is reality TV next?(Photo by Laura Farr/Getty Images.)
Rare indeed is the person whose career opportunities expand after some time in the slammer. But, seriously, following seven years behind bars, has there ever been a politician more ready for a prime-time reality show appearance than former Rep. Jim Traficant (D-Ohio)?
The nine-time congressman was released from a federal lock-up on Wednesday, following a conviction on bribery, tax evasion, racketeering and obstruction of justice. Supporters were already planning an over-the-top return celebration:
A special "Traficant release night"-themed home game by the area's minor league baseball team, the Mahoning Valley Scrappers, was canceled after a wave of criticism.
But a welcome home banquet for Traficant — what supporters are calling "an appreciation dinner" — will be held Sunday afternoon at a local banquet hall, where a representative said the venue was expecting 1,200 guests.
One of the organizers, Tony Trolio, told CNN that 1,200 was the official capacity crowd for the event, but that roughly 765 tickets had been sold as of midweek. The agenda is slated to include musical performances — including an appearance by an Elvis impersonator — and a PowerPoint presentation chronicling highlights of Traficant's congressional career.
Whether the event attracts 700 or 1200, that's still pretty impressive for a guy who has been out of the scene since 2002. Then again, this is the same man who turned "Beam me up," into his personal mantra to indicate fury over some form of government spending, bureaucratic decision or other perceived outrage. But, that line, combined with his bad clothing/permanent Bad Hair Day appearance means that Traficant is just begging to be transformed into America's next great reality star. That he was also expelled from the House of Representatives just adds to his renegade sensibility.
Heck, if the disgraced Rod Blagojevich -- impeached and removed from office -- could be asked to be part of the cast of "Help! I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here" (invitation withdrawn after a judge's ruling), an over-the-toupee Traficant would be a natural. Indeed, there's an obvious precedent from Traficant's home state of Ohio.
Before he became the star of the tawdriest daytime talk show in history, Jerry Springer was in politics, served several years as a member of the Cincinnati city council and one as mayor. During his time on the council, it was discovered that Springer had used a prostitute (foreshadowing his aforementioned talk show). However, his admission actually went over well with the voters and he retained his seat.
So, flamboyant politician, great soundbites and a bit of criminality (his conviction was the second time the feds tried to get Traficant -- he was acquitted in 1983 over a similar bunch of racketeering charges)!! Jim Traficant, Reality TV is calling you. And, if not there, at least one of the cable news stations could use someone of his prodigious, ahem, talents.
He would be, alas, the perfect commentator for the times.