Dennis Kucinich: A peace-seeking idealist to the core
The congressman from Ohio makes his second run for the White House, wanting healthcare for all Americans and peace for the world.
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His term lasted just two years, and it was, by all accounts, tumultuous. "He gave the town a nervous breakdown and he wore them out," says Brent Larkin, editorial page editor at The Cleveland Plain Dealer. "It was unlike anything I've seen in my rather long career of paying attention to things that happen in this city. He was a different Dennis then. He was extraordinarily combative."Skip to next paragraph
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Kucinich was always at odds with the city council, vetoing dozens of bills it sent to him, which councilors then overrode. He plunged the city into fiscal default when he refused to sell Muny Light, the city-owned electric utility, despite extraordinary pressure from business and a hit placed on him by organized crime, according to police.
"It wasn't mine to sell. It belonged to the people," Kucinich says, explaining a decision that he credits with saving citizens hundreds of millions of dollars in utility rates. Others say it's more complicated – that the city is still paying for the decision with a poor bond rating. One panel of experts included Kucinich in its list of the 10 worst big-city mayors of all time.
But Kucinich came back from the political wasteland – he barely survived a recall election and lost reelection in 1979 – in part based on new evidence that his stand on Muny Light was not only courageous, but, in hindsight, the best decision. "Because he was right" was the slogan that helped him win his 1994 election to the Ohio legislature. Two years later, he was elected to Congress.
"He is the most resilient political figure I have ever met," says Mr. Larkin. "I cannot overstate enough how dead he was politically in 1979…. He really is a tenacious guy."
Against the mainstream
Kucinich has a less combative style these days, but he still relishes standing alone against the political mainstream. He was the only member of Congress to vote against a bill this fall to establish Sept. 11 as a day of remembrance for those who died in the terrorist attacks and who have fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Because the resolution didn't make reference to "the lies that took us into Iraq, the lies that keep us there, the lies that are being used to set the stage for war against Iran, and the lies that have undermined our basic civil liberties here at home," he chose not to support it, Kucinich said in a statement at the time.
In presidential debates, he calls attention to his solo positions – as the only Democratic candidate supporting a nonprofit single-payer healthcare system, the only one calling for immediate withdrawal from Iraq, the only one who supports gay marriage and who voted against funding the war in Iraq.
This fall he introduced a bill to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney. In one debate, Kucinich whipped out his pocket-size copy of the Constitution when questioned about his efforts.
"A lot of people don't agree with Dennis on specific issues, but nobody ever doubts where he stands," says Andy Juniewicz, Kucinich's press secretary and a friend who worked as a copy boy with him at the Plain Dealer and has known him for more than 40 years. "He's probably the most courageous elected official I've ever known. Whatever the odds, if he believes he's right, he'll buck those odds and push for what he believes is right."
Kucinich himself explains those positions, which often go against the political mainstream, as simply coming from his internal convictions. "Emerson once wrote, 'Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string….' I've been reading that essay since I was 10 years old."
Still, Kucinich's critics often question whether his views are too extreme, too lacking in nuance and understanding of complexities, or so politically unpalatable as to make his election or the success of his proposals impossible.