Longtime Rep. Kucinich Is Down, But Maybe Not Out
Ohio's Super Tuesday contest wasn't just about the presidency. Two members of Congress there faced primary challenges — and were defeated. On the Republican side, four-term Rep. Jean Schmidt lost a challenge to Iraq War veteran Brad Wenstrup.
On the Democratic side, eight-term congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich lost to fellow Rep. Marcy Kaptur after their districts were redrawn. The race had become particularly bitter as the once-friendly colleagues battled for a seat.
Kucinich, in his concession speech, went out swinging. "I would like to be able to congratulate Congresswoman Kaptur," he told supporters, "but I do have to say that she ran a campaign in the Cleveland media market that was utterly lacking in integrity."
Kucinich is no stranger to defeat — or, for that matter, victory. He was elected to the Cleveland City Council when he was 23.
In 1977, he was elected mayor of Cleveland — then the youngest chief executive of a major U.S. city. They called him the "boy mayor."
But as Mike Roberts, a former editor for The Cleveland Plain Dealer, says, "That was an exciting and big thing in Cleveland, until he actually got in office."
Roberts calls the Kucinich term as mayor a "disaster" that contained in it among "the darkest moments in Cleveland history."
The problem, as Roberts describes it, was that Kucinich brought many young and inexperienced people to City Hall. The administration clashed with the media. And, Roberts says, "the city was just torn asunder."
Kucinich was thrown out of office after two years. In and around all that was sort of a lost period, when Kucinich moved to Los Angeles, lived with the actress Shirley MacLaine and became a radio host. He eventually returned home, won re-election to the Cleveland City Council and then the Ohio Legislature.
And in 1996, he was elected to the House of Representatives — where he immediately became one of the most liberal members of Congress. It was there that Kucinich fashioned himself a champion of the little guy. And he was famously opposed to the war in Iraq, calling for Congress to defund the war.
Kucinich launched two unsuccessful bids for president. The second race brought us one of the weirdest moments in presidential debate history, so far: When the late Tim Russert, moderating a 2007 debate, asked Kucinich if he had really seen a UFO.
MacLaine had written in her book Sage-ing While Age-ing that the congressman had seen a UFO over her home in Washington state. In the book, MacLaine describes Kucinich as seeing a silent, hovering triangular-shaped object — that Kucinich supposedly felt a connection to — and hearing directions in his mind. Kucinich has often laughed off the claims, even when asked about them in a presidential debate.
Roberts, the reporter, warns against writing a political obituary for Kucinich.
Roberts has known the congressman since Kucinich was an 18-year-old copy boy at The Cleveland Plain Dealer. He points out that losing isn't the strangest or worst thing to happen to the lifelong politician.
"He'll be back. Definitely," Roberts says.
Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.