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In Defense Of Kucinich (sort Of)

Daily Kos comes out swinging against Dennis Kucinich. I have to say, a few of Kos' complaints strike me as unfair--sure, the dude has a lot of wacky spiritual beliefs, but from a non-believer's perspective, all religious beliefs seem a little bizarre. One of his points, though, sounds pretty damning--apparently historian Melvin Holli once ranked Kucinich the 7th worst mayor in the nation's history:

When [Kucinich] got back into the political fray, his demagogic rhetoric and slash-and-burn political style got him into serious trouble when he stubbornly refused to compromise and led Cleveland into financial default in late 1978 - the first major city to default since the Great Depression. That led also to Kucinich's defeat and exit from executive office.

Sounds bad! But if you look at, say, Wikipedia's account of the whole incident, it's not clear that Kucinich did anything wrong. Basically, a private energy firm, the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI), had been violating federal antitrust law in its attempts to put Muny Light, the city's publicly-owned electric utility, out of business. CEI then engaged in a bit of price gouging to run up the city's light bill.

The previous mayor had planned to pay off the bill by selling Muny Light to CEI. Kucinich was elected mayor after promising to halt the sale. Once he got to office, a bank told Kucinich that it wouldn't renew the city's loans unless he sold off Muny Light. (The bank was later revealed to have a cozy relationship with CEI.) Kucinich refused, and the bank defaulted. Later on, a special election was held on the issue, and Cleveland's voters also refused to sell Muny Light to CEI. Ten years down the road, Cleveland Magazine reported that the refusal to sell had actually saved Cleveland hundreds of millions of dollars in the long run. In any case, Kucinich did exactly what voters wanted, and I don't see how he was the bad actor here.

On a more trivial note, Kucinich seems to have lost his 1979 re-election bid in part because his opponent George Voinovich's 9-year-old daughter was killed by a van during the campaign, earning him a tremendous amount of sympathy. (Voinovich already had a narrow lead.) It was a horrible fluke, and Kucinich might've lost anyway, but that doesn't make him a failure. Now sure, by many accounts Kucinich is a terrible person to work for, and his campaign isn't going anywhere, but hey, there's no sense in unfairly smearing the poor guy...

--Bradford Plumer