Click here to go to the Home Page Bye bye Dennis By Larry Matthews, Guest Commentator

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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.

My association 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 up.

He eventually 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.

Two Kucinich 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 called off.

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. 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.

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Mar 8, 2012 - Issue 462
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