So, after 16
years in the House and a lifetime in Cleveland politics,
Dennis Kucinich is being sent packing, the victim of a
shrinking Ohio population and the loss of two Congressional
seats in the state. To be sure, he was never beloved beyond
the city limits of “the mistake on the lake.” Within
the city limits he was something of a beloved bad boy
who said the things that everyone else was thinking but
was too timid to say out loud. I like Dennis.
with Kucinich goes back to the seventies, when I worked
at radio state WERE in Cleveland, an all-news outlet in
a city where someone on the City Council was always under
indictment, where the Mafia waged war against itself with
bombs, where race relations were worse than in the Deep
South, where Mayor Ralph Perk set fire to his head using
an acetylene torch to cut a steel ribbon at a new coke
oven, where the Cuyahoga River caught fire because it
was polluted, and where a short, pixy-looking kid with
a lot of energy looked at life from the bottom up.
Dennis was the
oldest of seven children. His father drove a truck. His
family moved 21 times. He knows what the phrase “working
class” means. He knows what it’s like to have the weight
of an entire society pressing down on you and the ones
you love. He pushed back. He was elected to the Cleveland
City Council when he was twenty-three and picked up the
name Dennis the Menace. His elders on the Council and
in the city’s political system tried to bring him around
to the way things worked, but he told them to get lost
and became a kind of folk hero in certain neighborhoods.
He was elected
Clerk of the Court, a position that had never before offered
anyone a public platform, but he used it to slam his critics
and jam home his message that the working people of Cleveland
were being screwed by the big money, big politics folks
who ran things.
He was elected
Mayor at the age of thirty-one, becoming the youngest
big-city mayor in the United States. He left no detail
untended. I was anchoring the early morning news on WERE
at the time and he never missed an opportunity call me,
on the air, to tell me that I was wrong about something
I had said about him. Snow removal is a big deal in Cleveland
where lake effect snows cover the ground most of the winter.
Woe unto me if I ran a story suggesting that some neighborhoods
were not being plowed. The problem wasn’t getting Kucinich
to talk about it. The problem was getting him to shut
moved on to Congress and found his place. At times he
was the only member of the House who had the courage to
say that America’s working people are still being screwed,
that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are an outrage,
that the Pentagon’s spending is crippling the country,
that the bankers are a bunch of thieves, that unions are
good, that the political system is corrupt, that socialized
medicine is a good idea, that the country belongs to the
people and not the special interests, and that the word
Progressive is positive.
stories: Shortly after he was elected Clerk of the Court
he hired one of his uncles, not an unusual event in big
city government. The man, according to the stories going
around at the time, had never really held a steady job.
You may relate to this as a family issue. Not long after
the uncle was on the payroll, he was “moving a file cabinet”
and injured his back. So, of course, he was given a lifelong
city pension. Kucinich’s critics called it an outrage.
Kucinich responded by praising his uncle for his service
to the people of Cleveland and the matter went away.
The second story
is a metaphor for his life. As mentioned earlier, he had
a few enemies. Some of these enemies were in the powerful
Mafia organization that had set up shop in Northeast Ohio.
They took out a contract on the Boy Mayor over an issue
that had them and the mayor on opposite sides, and they
hired a guy to shoot him in the head during a Columbus
Day parade. The mayor got sick and went to the hospital
instead, missing his own hit. The contract was eventually
Many other less
violent contracts have been taken out on Kucinich over
the years but he dodged them all. Except the last one,
the one that left him the odd man out in a round of redistricting.
If you hold
Progressive opinions and wonder where your champions have
gone, the last one just left town.
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator, Larry
Matthews, is a veteran broadcast journalist. He is the
recipient of The George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence in Broadcast for his reporting on Vietnam veterans. He is also
the recipient of a Columbia/DuPont Citation, Society of
Professional Journalists, Associated Press, and other
awards for investigative reporting. He is the author of I Used to Be in Radio, and two novels. Click here to reach Mr. Matthews.