Heard on the Hill

Cafaro Returns to Washington in New Educator Role

Ohio Democrat doesn’t rule out another run for Congress

Capri Cafaro is an executive resident at American University’s School of Public Affairs. (Courtesy Capri Cafaro)

Capri Cafaro is back in Washington, but not the way she initially envisioned it 13 years ago.

The Ohio Democrat ran unsuccessfully for Congress, the first time at age 26. In 2007, she was appointed to the Ohio Senate, where she served for nine years, rising to Democratic leader. She authored the state’s Medicaid law, one to clear the rape kit backlog, another for a program to stimulate developing goods derived from the state’s agriculture industry, and one for a program to promote tourism. She also served on the ethics committee for eight years, the second-longest in state history.

Term-limited, she’s now the new executive resident at American University’s School of Public Affairs.

She said she sees herself in the students she’ll be teaching.

“I know how it feels to be excited to see a member of Congress that you’ve seen on television, or the excitement that you get when you have an opportunity to work on a research project,” she said. “I think all of us in D.C. and those of us in government, we have a mutual appreciation for nerding out on policy and government.”  

Cafaro will begin teaching in the fall and for now she is building partnerships with other universities and policy organizations.

“We’re still sort of in the process of trying to see where [teaching] fits in,” she said. “If it’s going to be on the health policy side, or if it will be more focused on women in politics.”

She said she was considering another run for Congress had her representative, Democrat Tim Ryan, sought higher office, but with Ryan announcing last week that he was staying put, Cafaro said, “It is unlikely that I will run any time in the near future.”

But she’s not ruling it out later.

“You never know what will happen in the future,” she said. “Redistricting happens in 2022, we’re going to go through redistricting reform. I’m still involved with my community back in Ohio as well.”

“For me, Congress would be the best fit and that’s just not in the cards,” she addded.

When she’s not at American, she goes back to Ohio twice a month because she is on the state’s Turnpike commission, and the board of the Association of Free Clinics, and remains involved in other organizations.

Cafaro gained some fame by running for Congress at such a young age. But the name was no secret to politics.

Her father, J.J. Cafaro, was connected to the flamboyant and colorful former Rep. James A. Traficant Jr., who was expelled from the House in 2002 after being convicted of bribery, racketeering and corruption and later sent to prison.

J.J. Cafaro had pled guilty the previous year, admitting that he provided an illegal gratuity to Traficant in the form of houseboat repairs, then later bought the decrepit vessel from Traficant. Cafaro was sentenced to probation.

He was later sentenced to three years of probation for failing to disclose a donation to his daughter’s 2004 campaign, which she lost to former Ohio Republican Rep. Steven C. LaTourette.

J.J. Cafaro’s name popped up recently, this time in connection to President Donald Trump. Then-candidate Trump called him out from the stage in Iowa last year for a $50,000 donation he made to Trump’s veterans charity. And the Cleveland businessman and his wife Janet co-chaired a Red Cross ball held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate last month, the Miami Herald reported.

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