Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D)
Ohio 10th District
Cleveland, one of America’s great cities at the beginning of the 20th century, faced major hardships in the latter half of the century. It grew up as a center of heavy industry. This was the original base of John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil. The city’s deep, twisting Cuyahoga River was the site of several of the nation’s largest steel mills. Great industrial fortunes built civic institutions like the museums in Wade Park, Case Western University and the Cleveland Symphony, and they financed the campaigns of northeast Ohio Republican Presidents James Garfield and William McKinley. On the old Public Square, designed like a New England town green by the Yankees who settled this Western Reserve (the northeast corner of Ohio) in the early 19th century, the two eccentric Van Sweringen brothers, trolley magnates of the early 20th century, built the Terminal Tower, for many years the highest skyscraper in interior America. As an ethnic city with more than 40 nationalities—Hungarians, Czechs, Serbs, Croatians, Poles, Italians, Germans—and many distinct ethnic neighborhoods, it produced a robust two-party politics. In the 1930s, after CIO unions organized steel factories and auto-assembly plants, Cleveland became solidly Democratic, though with some affluent Republican suburbs.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
Disgruntled by local taxes, Rockefeller and his corporate operations moved to New York, and Cleveland never led the nation as it had hoped. America’s fourth largest city in 1910, it was overtaken in size first by Detroit and eventually by the likes of Houston and Dallas. Today, it’s the center of the nation’s 26th-largest metropolitan area, having fallen below Cincinnati in 2007. That year, more people left Cleveland and Cuyahoga County than any other major city or county. The central city declined from 914,000 in 1950 to 405,000 in 2007, with a Census Bureau projection that it may soon fall below 400,000. As the children who grew up in the tightly packed neighborhoods have made more money and moved to the close-in suburbs and then outer suburban counties, fewer new immigrants have taken their place; a modest sign of hope has been the growth of the Asian community. The 1970s were a hard decade for Cleveland, which became an object of ridicule nationally. Its heavy industries were fast declining, corporate headquarters were departing, Lake Erie and the Cuyahoga River were badly polluted (the river caught fire in June 1969), and the city faced bankruptcy under the youthful Democratic Mayor Dennis Kucinich. The city government was rescued by Republican George Voinovich, elected mayor in 1979. Downtown Cleveland slowly revived, with the theater district center at Playhouse Square, the Jacobs Field baseball stadium, Gund Arena, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. People now swim in a restored Lake Erie. Restaurants and pleasure-boat docks line the Cuyahoga. In Brook Park, NASA’s Glenn Research Center is developing the service module for the next generation of the space shuttle.
The 10th Congressional District of Ohio includes most of the west side of Cleveland and the western and southern suburbs in Cuyahoga County. Excluded is one salient of mostly black Cleveland precincts, which are attached to the 11th District across the river. Suburbs in the 10th include Lakewood, still comfortable middle-class territory, plus Rocky River and Bay Village. Inland is Parma, a creation of the 1950s, when second- and third-generation ethnics moved out to subdivision houses set amid what was once America’s densest concentration of bowling alleys. The political tradition is primarily Democratic. In 2008, Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama won the district with 59% of the vote to 39% for Republican John McCain.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D)
Elected: 1996, 7th term.
Born: Oct. 8, 1946, Cleveland .
Education: Cleveland St. U., 1967-70, Case Western Reserve U., B.A., M.A., 1973.
Family: Married (Elizabeth Harper); 1 child.
Elected office: Cleveland City Cncl., 1969–75, 1983–85; Cleveland mayor, 1977–79; OH Senate, 1994–96.
Professional Career: Clerk, municipal courts, 1976–77; Radio talk show host, 1979, 1989; Lecturer, 1980–83; Consultant, 1986–94; TV Reporter, Channel 8, 1989–92.
The congressman from the 10th District is Dennis Kucinich, elected in 1996 and an iconoclastic candidate for president in 2004 and 2008. The son of a truck driver who was frequently out of work, Kucinich (Koo SIN ich) grew up as the oldest of seven children. The family moved 21 times to various parts of Cleveland and during particularly rough patches slept in the family’s car. As the oldest, Kucinich went to work at 12 as a shoe-shine boy. He was driven and continued working to put himself through college. In 1969, at age 23, he was elected to the Cleveland City Council. He saw himself as the champion of the working man and had a confrontational relationship with Cleveland’s business establishment. He was elected mayor in 1977, then the youngest-ever mayor of a major American city. But the city was in dire financial straits, and Kucinich was unwilling or unable to balance the budget and meet obligations. When bankers demanded that he sell city-owned properties, he refused, and they called in their loans. The public verdict was negative. In 1979, after surviving a recall petition by just 236 votes out of 120,000 cast, Kucinich was defeated. He argued that his primary goal had been to preserve the city-owned Muny Light electric system, and that in succeeding, he had saved residents millions of dollars on their electric bills. “This was a case of the bank blackmailing the city, pure and simple,” he once said. He taught at Cleveland State and Case Western Reserve universities, hosted a radio talk show and was a television reporter. In 1994, he staged a political comeback and was elected to the state Senate. Two years later, he ran for the U.S. House against Republican Rep. Martin Hoke. He campaigned against the North American Free Trade Agreement and as a friend of labor. Many of his former critics rallied around him. The Cleveland City Council named a public power plant for him, and President Bill Clinton campaigned for him in Parma. Kucinich won, but by only 49%-46%.
|Dennis Kucinich (D)||157,268||(57%)||($2,430,560)|
|Jim Trakas (R)||107,918||(39%)||($381,135)|
|Paul Conroy (Lib)||10,623||(4%)|
|Dennis Kucinich (D)||72,646||(50%)|
|Joe Cimperman (D)||50,760||(35%)|
|Barbara Ferris (D)||9,362||(6%)|
|Thomas O'Grady (D)||7,264||(5%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (66%), 2004 (60%), 2002 (74%), 2000 (75%), 1998 (67%), 1996 (49%)
Kucinich’s voting record is liberal. He has been a vocal foe of international trade agreements and bars his staff from parking foreign cars in congressional lots. Even in a Democratic-controlled House, he remains largely out of the mainstream. A vegan since before he was elected to Congress, Kucinich has attacked companies that produce genetically modified foods. Active in the Progressive Caucus, his agenda includes a national health-care system, universal pre-kindergarten, the abolition of all nuclear weapons, and repeal of the USA PATRIOT Act. He continues to emphasize his local roots, with a tab on his website dedicated to polka, bowling and kielbasa, or Polish sausage.
In early 2003, Kucinich decided to run for president, based on his opposition to American military action in Iraq and elsewhere. He voted to authorize the use of force in Afghanistan after the September 11 attacks, but after the defeat of the Taliban government, he focused on nonviolent responses and called for the creation of a Department of Peace. He joined five other House Democrats in a lawsuit to prevent President George W. Bush from invading Iraq without an explicit declaration of war. In seeking the Democratic nomination in the 2004 presidential contest, he called himself an “FDR Democrat” who wanted to “return the Democratic Party to its roots,” with strong ties to organized labor. “Miracles occur,” he claimed when he announced his candidacy. He spoke to enthusiastic audiences of peace activists. Long an opponent of abortion, he had voted present on two anti–abortion rights bills in 2002. After he launched his presidential campaign, he changed his position completely. “I want to state clearly that no one will be appointed to the U.S. Supreme Court if they don’t commit to supporting Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose,” he said.
Even though he did not come close to winning a single state, trailing far behind Vermont’s Howard Dean in winning the support of party leftists, Kucinich remained buoyant and enjoyed the attention. Long after Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry had clinched the nomination, Kucinich continued his campaign. At the Democratic convention in Boston, the 67 Kucinich delegates were a rump group for “peace and justice” and for moving the party further to the left.
Running again in 2008, he more than ever marched to his own drummer, and his candidacy was not taken seriously by other Democrats or the news media. He challenged corporate America, emphasized world peace, and promised to protect the little guy. “Why should people vote for a Democrat if you can’t tell the difference?” he said. But he picked up no delegates in the Iowa caucuses and got just 1% of the vote in the New Hampshire primary. Citing his exclusion from national debates, he ended his campaign in late January 2008 to shift his attention to a competitive primary for his House seat.
Back in the House, Kucinich gained a wide-ranging platform as chairman of Oversight and Government Reform’s Domestic Policy Subcommittee. In 2007 and 2008, with full committee Chairman Henry Waxman of California, he held hearings on high mortgage-foreclosure rates in the Cleveland area, the use of taxpayer money for athletic stadiums, and the dealings of U.S. oil companies in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. His chief initiative was a series of resolutions and votes with the goal of impeaching Bush and Vice President Cheney for lying to Congress about the justification for invading Iraq. “The war was totally unnecessary, unprovoked and unjustified,” Kucinich told a House Judiciary Committee hearing in July 2008, after the House voted 238-180 to send the resolution to committee. Democratic leaders saw the move as an unwelcome distraction. As Bush’s term was coming to an end, Kucinich called for a “national truth and reconciliation commission,” but neither party expressed interest.
He has faced some trouble at home in recent elections. In 2006 the Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed his primary opponent Barbara Anne Ferris, a former Peace Corps worker, in part because of Kucinich’s failure to address local problems. But he won 76%-24%. In 2008, Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman spent more than $600,000 to challenge him in the primary and criticized Kucinich for having little influence in Congress. The Plain Dealer endorsed Cimperman and said that Kucinich had indeed ignored his district for “an absolutely hopeless quest for the White House.” But Kucinich won 50%-35%. In the general election, he defeated Republican Jim Trakas, a former state representative from Independence, who criticized him for “misplaced priorities” and for playing “political games” with impeachment. Kucinich won 57%-39%.