By JOE MILICIA, Associated Press Writer

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) - There were few signs of public concern in this former steel town Wednesday as the House of Representatives prepared to vote on ousting the city's longtime champion, U.S. Rep. James A. Traficant Jr.

Support for the convicted congressman could be found in quiet corners downtown.

At a local bar, Ralph Valerio, 62, said he's voted for Traficant in every election since he was sheriff, and would vote for him again.

"I think he can get just as much done from prison as anyone else who takes his job," the retired electrical worker said.

Traficant (pictured, above) did everything he could for the district, including retaining jobs and settling strikes, Valerio said.

"I feel we're going to be hurting. I think our economy will be hurting. I think unemployment will be on the rise," if Traficant is removed from office, Valerio said.

Traficant became a local hero in the early 1980s when, as sheriff, he refused to foreclose on the homes of laid-off steelworkers.

Many residents have not forgotten that, including Willie House, 37, who said Traficant has tried to help people his whole life. He said Congress is trying to expel him to cover their own misdeeds.

"They don't want him around because they don't want their skeletons to come out of the closet," House said.

Others say they won't miss Traficant, and would not notice if they have no congressional representation through the end of the year.

Dave Maverman, a construction worker building the new federal courthouse for which Traficant secured money, said he has never bothered to vote because "there's nobody here to vote for. When they get a person that's honest here in Mahoning County, I'll vote for them."

Traficant is one of more than 70 local public officials convicted in the past few years in a sweeping federal corruption probe.

Maverman did say he would miss Traficant's speaking style.

"He says what he thinks, which is more than I can say for other politicians," Maverman said.

As Maverman spoke, the ringing of a bell being shaken by a Traficant supporter faintly echoed through downtown.

Less than a dozen protesters showed up for a rally mounted by Traficant supporters, and many that did are employed in Traficant's congressional office.

The Rev. Werner Lange, the protest organizer, said the low turnout did not the reflect the amount of support Traficant has in town.

"People here made him their choice nine times. They (Congress) are taking away the power of the votes of the residents of the 17th District," Lange said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)