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Friday, May 09, 2003

Shining a light on Mayor Kucinich:
In last Saturday's debate, George Stephanopoulos saved his nastiest question for the best candidate. He asked Congressman Dennis Kucinich this: "Congressman, when you were mayor of Cleveland, the city went into default. How do you answer those who say you'll do for America what you did for Cleveland?" (I'm paraphrasing, but that's close. In contrast, George's question for Lieberman was "People say you're too nice to be president." AAAARGH!) Unfortunately, Kucinich had little time to tell the story on TV, but he tells it on his web site, and I'm happy to post it here:

A Profile in Political Courage...and Vindication

Having been elected to Cleveland’s City Council at age 23, Dennis Kucinich was well-known to Cleveland voters when they chose him as their mayor in 1977 at the age of 31. He was elected mayor on a promise that he would not sell off or privatize the beloved and trusted city-owned power system, though Cleveland was deeply in debt.

Cleveland Magazine offered this summary: “Kucinich refused to yield to bankers who gave him a choice: Sell the Municipal Light System to the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co. or the city will go into default. The mayor said no.”

When Kucinich refused to sell Muny Light, the banks took the unprecedented step of refusing to roll over the city’s debt, as is customary. Instead, they pushed the city into default. It turned out the banks were thoroughly interlocked with the private utility, CEI, which
would have acquired monopoly status by taking over Muny Light. Five of the six banks held almost 1.8 million shares of CEI stock; of the 11 directors of CEI, eight were also directors of four of the six banks involved.

By holding to his campaign promise and putting principle above politics, he lost his re-election bid and his political career was derailed. But today Kucinich stands vindicated for having confronted the Enron of his day, and for saving the municipal power company. “There is little
debate,” wrote Cleveland Magazine in May 1996, “over the value of Muny Light today. Now Cleveland Public Power, it is a proven asset to the city that between 1985 and 1995 saved its customers $195,148,520 over what they would have paid CEI.”

When Kucinich re-launched his political career in the mid-1990s, it was on the strength of having saved public power. His campaign symbol was a light bulb. “Because he was right!” was his campaign slogan when he won his seat in the state senate in 1994. The slogan that sent him to Washington two years later was “Light Up Congress.”

In 1998, the Cleveland City Council issued a commendation to Dennis Kucinich for "having the courage and foresight to refuse to sell the city's municipal electric system."