The liberal’s liberal

Rep. Dennis Kucinich brings his grassroots presidential campaign to Grass Valley

BOY WONDER<br>Now a youthful 56, Dennis Kucinich greets well wishers during a reception after his speech May 26 in Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts.

Now a youthful 56, Dennis Kucinich greets well wishers during a reception after his speech May 26 in Grass Valley’s Center for the Arts.

Photo By Tom Gascoyne

Kucinich is a vegan, a pro-labor environmentalist and co-chairman of the Progressive Caucus in Congress. He’s proposed that the federal government create a Department of Peace.

If the folks who packed the Grass Valley Center for the Arts on Memorial Day were typical American voters, Ohio Congressman and presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich would win next year’s Democratic nomination by a landside and then go on to soundly defeat President Bush, even with the Supreme Court and Ralph Nader.

But unfortunately for liberals in America, the former “Boy Mayor” of Cleveland will probably have a tough row to hoe as he tries to bring his message of international tranquility and domestic prosperity across America in the political season that is just beginning.

Sure, it plays well with the progressives of Grass Valley, but will his attack on global corporations and calls for universal health care, alternative energy and environmental protection hit a note with Middle America? And even here, the local paper, the Grass Valley Union, refused to take part in a press-panel interview with Kucinich, instead opting to send a reporter who showed up after his speech was over and Kucinich was taking questions from the audience.

Dressed in a black T-shirt and khaki pants, the 56-year-old Kucinich took the stage and, with microphone in hand, addressed the 600 or so faithful, coming across somewhere between a stand-up comedian and a traveling preacher man.

“Where would a national grassroots campaign for presidency start?” he asked. “Where else but Grass Valley, right?”

Enthusiastic applause.

Kucinich then outlined his speech and for the next 45 minutes pretty much stuck to topic.

“We began the campaign three months ago,” he said. “In a sense the campaign has risen and gained great support across this country because I’ve been willing to raise some fundamental questions about the nature of our democracy, where this country has been going and the direction we’re headed. That is the discussion I want to have today.”

Speaking to an audience of dread-locked mothers holding complaining babies and silver-haired grandmothers who lined the front row, the charismatic and youthful-appearing candidate preached to the choir, promising that the first thing he would do as president is dismantle the North American Free Trade Agreement as well as the World Trade Organization.

“My campaign for the presidency arises out of the yearning that people have for a government that truly represents the interests of the American people,” he said. “A government of Lincoln’s prayer—of the people, by the people, for the people—needs to be distinguished from a government of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations.”

He went on, without notes or TelePrompTer, to touch on universal health care, reversing Bush’s environmental record, breaking the monopolies corporate media moguls have created and what Enron did to California utility rates.

Kucinich’s own political aspirations suffered a near-fatal blow in 1978, when as Cleveland’s mayor he refused to sell the city’s Municipal Light System to a private interest, angering the town’s bankers, who as it turned out had much to gain by the sale and caused the city to go into default.

In retrospect, even his strongest critics then now say the boy mayor—he was 32 at the time—was right.

Kucinich lost his bid for re-election and didn’t reappear politically outside Cleveland until he was elected to the state Senate more than a decade later. In 1996, he defeated Republican incumbent Rep. Martin Hoke, and he is now serving his fourth term in Congress.

Kucinich’s communications director, John Cohen, reached by phone in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., said he expects his candidate to finish in the top three in next year’s pivotal Iowa caucus. He also said that Kucinich’s message plays well in America’s heartland, and not just among the rumpled lefties in a Northern California mountain community.

He said Kucinich does well in Iowa, a state he has already visited eight times since he launched his campaign in February, for two reasons: a strong union connection and the continual loss of family farms there to corporate agribusinesses.

“His popularity is playing big in Iowa because corporations have moved jobs there to Third World countries,” Cohen said. Though he said campaign finance figures would not be released until later in June, Kucinich raised an estimated $70,000 when he stopped off in Santa Cruz before coming to Grass Valley.

“This is real grassroots fund-raising,” he said. “It’s not like he’s getting bundled money from a group of attorneys.”

And Cohen said he believes his boss’ message will be heard and accepted across the nation.

“His anti-corporate message plays big in Iowa and will play big elsewhere,” Cohen said. “He got people in Parma [Ohio], where the voters are considered Reagan Democrats, to vote for him [for Congress] without tailoring, moderating or blunting his message. We’re talking working class people, not just the new-age, vegetarian types.

“He’s not synthetic, he’s the real deal. He even writes his own speeches.”

Imagine that.