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Dennis Kucinich: A peace-seeking idealist to the core

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Quoting the romantic poets

The eldest of seven children, he grew up in a household that was chronically short of money and often had trouble finding an apartment that would accept so many children. The family moved more than 20 times and, at one point, lived out of their 1948 Dodge. Kucinich worked to pay his tuition to the Catholic schools he attended and was one of the first in his family to graduate from high school. A sports lover despite his 5-foot, 7-inch frame, he played football and basketball – and endured brutal hazing from teammates – until he was diagnosed with a heart murmur and told to stop.

From the time he was young, Kucinich has been reading the likes of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Robert Browning, and the Romantic poets. He still quotes them and considers many of their ideas part of his broader sense of faith. A particular favorite is Percy Shelley's "Prometheus Unbound" – whose final lines mirror Kucinich's own belief that love and hope must challenge oppression. "Tennyson – 'Come, My friends, 'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.' Browning – 'A man's reach should exceed his grasp,' " Kucinich says. "The romantic poets had this understanding of the power of the human spirit…. That to me corresponds to religion, and to me the power of the human heart is an article of faith."

Those sentiments – that one should strive for the impossible, and try to create something better – were also drilled into him by the nuns in Kucinich's high school, St. John Cantius. Those ideas influenced his desire to be a politician – and to start young. Kucinich first ran for political office when he was 20 and nearly defeated a longtime city council incumbent in Cleveland. He looked even younger than he was, and news stories at the time referred to him as "Dennis the Menace" and "Alfalfa." Two years later he ran again and won.

In his 2007 memoir, "The Courage to Survive," Kucinich writes of telling a high school friend that he would be mayor of Cleveland by the time he was 30. He wasn't far off; in fact, he was elected mayor in 1977 at age 31, the youngest mayor of a major American city.

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