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."
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.