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Local Support Strong for Ohio Rep. Bob Ney

A group called the "Campaign for America's future " this week unveiled a new round of ads critical of Ohio Congressman Bob Ney. Ney has been subpoenaed in an investigation of Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff. But, its unclear whether the ethics scandal has effected the Saint Clairsville's republican's chances for another term in congress. WOSU's Sam Hendren traveled to Belmont County this week and files this report.

Speculation about Congressman Ney's future depends on who you ask. Down the street from the picturesque Belmont County Court House residents of the 18th Congressional District have differing opinions.

"Mine would be very negative...he's a crook."

"I really don't trust the media so I don't pay too much attention to what they're going to bring up because I think he's been a good congressman."

Even prominent democrats in Belmont County are reluctant to criticize Ney. They say he's worked in a bipartisan manner to aid the district - especially the eastern end that's been hard hit by declining steel production. William Shubat used to work at the Benwood steel plant in West Virginia - just across the Ohio River from Bellaire, Bob Ney's home town.

"The mill started where the bridge is over there. The galvanized shop was right along here. We galvanized our own pipe and loaded it onto barges or trains and send it out. They had orders for 15 years there. And it just dried up overnight," Shubat says.

Shubat, a democrat, is Belmont County's Board of Elections director and a friend of Ney's.

When all the steel problems started to come and fall down around our feet, Bob Ney was there to work along with other congressmen, democrat or republican, but in a bipartisan manner. We need help in this area. We need people to bring back our basic industry which is what we thrive on. People like Bob Ney will listen. He will do what needs to be done."

Another democrat, state senator Charles Wilson agrees. Wilson, who's running for Ted Strickland's congressional seat, says Bob Ney has done a lot for the district. But he calls the allegations against Ney "unfortunate."

"I think many people are disappointed in that. And I think it's one more of sadness and one more of, Gee I wish it wouldn't have happened,' and that type of thing. The congressman has served this area well since '94, also, in Congress and previous to that in the [Ohio] senate and the house. I think it's unfortunate all the way around," Wilson says.

Both Wilson and Shubat say there may be an element of truth to Ney's contention that he was misled in his lobbyist dealings.

"I'm sure if he said that, there's some fact to that. I think a big part of it is is that all of us make mistakes. I just hope and pray I don't make that kind of mistake; that I'm not mislead. But I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt rather than rule against him," says Wilson.

But the strong local support is at odds with the nationally generated anti-Ney advertising. Here's an ad from the Campaign for America's future.

"One thing you can say about our congressman Bob Ney, he sure knows how to play the game in Washington. Knows when to hold em, knows when to fold em,' and he sure knows how to stack the deck for his lobbyist friends."

It's this sort of advertising - and the accompanying news coverage that lead the vice chair of the local Democratic Party to believe Bob Ney may have difficulty rehabilitating his reputation. Lee Horsfall is also a St. Clairsville barber.

"I think he's got a lot of work to do to get back his credibility. I have a feeling he's going to have a rough time doing it because of the way things are," says Horsfall.

Congressman Ney has not been charged with anything but he has created a legal defense fund and hired an attorney for his defense. Ney says he doesn't believe his reelection campaign will be affected by an investigation. Sam Hendren, WOSU News...