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Kucinich: fervently unconventional

(Page 4 of 4)

As he takes the podium and surveys the room, Kucinich pauses. He considers these his people, too. "Brothers and sisters," he says as he pulls out his AFL-CIO membership card from his wallet, "there's a lot of alligator tears being shed for the 'poor workers,' but who's addressing these issues about what we need to do about NAFTA and the WTO?"

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The crowd is tepid at first, but slowly, as Kucinich's voice begins to rise, they start to cheer. Soon, they erupt and yell as the gentle wizard before them gestures with his index finger and proclaims the rights of workers: "It's about the right to decent wages and benefits, the right to a safe workplace, the right to a secure retirement. It's about electing a president you can call your own, and that's me!"

The crowd is buzzing. One man turns to another and says, "Wow, he was great!" The button on his coat, however, reads "Organized Labor for Gephardt."

The Kucinich File

Born: Dennis John Kucinich, Oct. 8, 1946.

Parents: Frank, a truck driver; and Virginia.

Religion: Roman Catholic.

Family: Married and divorced twice; he has one daughter, Jackie, 21 [from 2nd marriage].

Education: BA, speech communications, Case Western Reserve University, 1973; MA, communication sciences, Case Western, 1974.

Itineracy: Lived in 21 places by age 17, including back seats of cars, and spent five months in a Catholic orphanage with his siblings while in the sixth grade. He moved into an apartment at the beginning of high school, to escape a chaotic family life.

Previous occupations: Worked as a caddie to help pay his tuition at St. John Cantius, a private Catholic high school in Cleveland; Municipal courts clerk, 1976-77; radio talk-show host, 1979; lecturer, 1980-83; media consultant, 1986-94; television reporter, 1989-92; also worked as a copy editor at the Cleveland Plain Dealer and The Wall Street Journal, and as a surgical technician at Cleveland's St. Alexis Hospital.

Military history: None. He was declared ineligible for the draft due to a heart murmur.

Diet: He's a vegan - a strict vegetarian who avoids all animal and dairy products.

Favorite song: 'Imagine' by John Lennon.

Political highlights:

• Cleveland City Council, 1970-75 (elected at age 23).

• Cleveland mayor, 1977-79 (elected at age 31 and was called the 'boy mayor'; survived a recall effort by 236 votes).

• Ohio State Senate, 1994-96.

• Member of the US House of Representatives, 1996-present.

• Chair of Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Campaign touchstones:

• Would eliminate NAFTA and the World Trade Organization.

• Wants to make healthcare and education constitutional rights.

• Proposes a 15 percent cut in Pentagon spending and a 'Department of Peace.'

• Supports gay marriage as 'a fundamental civil rights issue.'

• Supports abortion rights, though he once opposed abortion.

Key legislative positions:

• Opposed the Iraq war; has urged President Bush to withdraw all American soldiers from Iraq and cede control to the UN.

• Opposed Bush's proposal for $87 billion to fund Iraq and Afghanistan operations.

• Critic of the USA Patriot Act, sweeping antiterror legislation post-9/11.

Sources: Compiled from wire services, CNN, Slate, San Francisco Chronicle, The Daily Oklahoman, The New York Times, The Des Moines Register, The Washington Post, Austin American-Statesman, Chicago Tribune, Cleveland Plain Dealer.