City Plans To Honor Kucinich 24 Years After Rocky Mayoral Term

By PAUL SINGER, Associated Press Writer

CLEVELAND - The city's "boy mayor," drummed out of City Hall two decades ago, has finally been invited back with honors. Mayor Jane Campbell launched a private fund-raising drive Monday for Dennis Kucinich's official portrait.

At the moment, Kucinich -- now serving his third term in Congress -- is the only former mayor in the city's history whose portrait does not hang in City Hall.

The portraits are traditionally paid for by corporate contributions, a farewell gift to the outgoing mayor.

Elected mayor in 1977 at the age of 31, Kucinich's term was marked by bitter disputes between the mayor and local businesses, culminating in the city going into default in 1978. Opponents forced a recall election, which Kucinich (pictured, above) narrowly survived, but he lost his re-election bid to Republican George Voinovich in 1980.

Council Member Joe Cimperman said that at the end of Kucinich's term, no one in the business community was willing to pay for a portrait.

In the intervening years, neither of the mayors who succeeded Kucinich -- Voinovich and Democrat Michael R. White -- made any effort to memorialize Kucinich, Cimperman said.

"His portrait has been in the wilderness now for 24 years," Cimperman said. "There were issues then, but you can't deny his contributions to the city since."

The biography on Kucinich's Web site still blames industry for his troubles as mayor, arguing that the city's banks "plunged the city into default" by demanding immediate payment of $15 million in loans.

But his relations with industry have greatly improved. Kucinich took an active role in trying to save LTV Steel, which shut down operations in December. WL Ross & Co. LLC, acquired LTV's facilities this year under the name International Steel Group and restarted the Cleveland mills.

"We're going to do this because it's the right thing to do," Campbell said at a press conference to announce the campaign. "He was the mayor. He's part of this community's history, and he's part of this community's future."

Bob Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican party, ran the campaign of the incumbent mayor that Kucinich unseated, but said he believes Kucinich deserves a portrait.

"If you look back in the history at the mayors of the city of Cleveland, there are probably a few up there who are a lot less deserving of having a place up there," Bennett said. "He wasn't my mayor, I didn't support him, but he was the mayor."

Ultimately, it is labor, not industry, that is leading the drive for Kucinich's portrait. Local AFL-CIO leader John Ryan said the union has created a fund within one of its non-profit arms. The group hopes to raise $35,000 to $40,000 by the end of the year to pay for the portrait, Ryan said.

"Our goal is not just to hang the portrait, but to have as many Clevelanders involved in the process as possible," Ryan said. He said the group is planning a $20 per plate fund-raising party with kielbasa and polka music in one of the neighborhood churches in Kucinich's heavily eastern European district.

Gerry Austin, a long-time political consultant who ran Campbell's mayoral campaign, said most of the bad feelings between Kucinich and local industry have probably healed.

"The folks who are in charge of these companies weren't here 20 years ago," he said.

Kucinich did not appear at the press conference and "is very, very embarrassed about this whole process," Cimperman said. "He actually tried to dissuade us at the very beginning from doing this thing."

Kucinich's office said he was in a hearing on Monday and unavailable to comment on the matter.

But he issued a statement saying, "I'm humbled and grateful for the efforts to recognize my service to the city of Cleveland. I'm thankful to the mayor, the city council and the civic leaders."

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)