Sam Allard / Scene
Dennis Kucinich electrifies the crowd at the Lakewood Women's Pavilion (3/29/2018).
In an interview
with Channel 3 News' Mark Naymik ostensibly about a new memoir, former mayor, congressman and presidential candidate Dennis! Kucinich confirmed what has long been rumored
: He is "seriously considering" running once again for Cleveland Mayor in 2021.
Unmentioned is that Kucinich has been laying the groundwork for a campaign since at least early 2020. The Ward 11 resident has nevertheless insisted, while writing op-eds about the West Side Market for cleveland.com and issuing press releases about Cleveland Public Power and other topics, that he is merely a "concerned citizen."
Last week, he sent a press release to local media in response to the soaring violent crime rate. He called for the city to double the number of its homicide detectives, to launch a new community relations approach targeting high-crime areas, and to provide mental health counselors in those areas.
Scene asked Kucinich this summer why the media should pay these press releases any mind. If Kucinich was merely a concerned private citizen, after all, why would these policy proposals rise above the level of Facebook posts?
The answer is and has always been that these are campaign materials, designed not only to establish policy priorities for Kucinich's potential platform, but to generate publicity (and mystery!) about his run. He has not personally admitted his intent to seek the office until now, i.e., when the presidential election is in the rearview mirror and residents can focus on city matters in an undivided way. Like Frank Jackson, Kucinich is shrewd enough to understand that declaring one's candidacy means one headline; teasing reporters for months about a potential candidacy means continuous
There's no sense denying that Kucinich remains far and away the most gifted campaigner of all the potential mayoral candidates in Cleveland. First-time challengers would do well, in fact, to pay close attention to how he operates. His strategy involves regular contact with the media and specific policy
proposals on hot-button issues.
Kucinich is sometimes mischaracterized as a pure opportunist and a kook. I think that misses the mark. He is, however, very smart about pairing his decades-long commitment to progressive causes (his brand, for lack of a better word), with the issues on most folks' minds during a given election season. Have a look at how central gun legislation was in his platform during the 2018 gubernatorial primary, in the wake of the Parkland shooting. The current disaster at Cleveland Public Power and the statewide scandal at FirstEnergy is the stuff of divine bequeaths
. For the former Boy Mayor who staked his career on saving Muny Light, the campaign narrative is writing itself.
Crucially, Dennis! also has the luxury of operating outside City Hall and can therefore call out the incompetence and dismal track record of current city leaders without risking personal relationships.
That's important, because the incompetence and track record of current leaders need to be called out. Candidates like City Council President Kevin Kelley, and indeed, Mayor Frank Jackson, will have to convince voters to keep them in power despite the misery and poverty over which they've presided.
Some will say that Kucinich is a curious candidate to call out incompetence, that given the storied tumult of his lone mayoral term
, (1977-1979), he is playing pot to Jackson's kettle. Far more depressing, though, is that a Kucinich campaign likely means a strengthened Frank Jackson campaign, which will drain resources away from new, younger candidates.
Scene reported earlier this year, and confirmed again recently, that many of Jackson's donors are still very much behind him and would prefer to see him run again. They are expected to redouble their commitments should Kucinich mount a serious challenge. Jackson himself reportedly remains undecided. He has said he has not ruled out running next year.
Incidentally, for Cleveland history buffs, Kucinich's memoir
appears set for publication at last. (Another nice campaign publicity boost.) It's been in-progress for years. Getting Kucinich's interpretation of what went down during the epic Muny Light battle in the late 70s, especially given Kucinich's penchant for drama and his flair with prose, should make for a page-turner.
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