Dennis Kucinich: From sleeping in a car as a kid to 16 years in Congress

Hosted by

U.S. House Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) waits to speak to a crowd at the 2008 DNC. Photo by Juli Hansen/Shutterstock.

Dennis Kucinich’s story, which he relays in detail in his latest book, “The Division of Light and Power”-- available June 8--is in many ways the story of the sort of American dream to which so many aspire, yet to which so few have access. It’s also the exact opposite--a tale of the often untold struggles of a principled person faced with everything that’s rotten in the state of America. The former Congress member and Cleveland mayor grew up in poverty in a large Catholic family in the city he later went on to run, painfully aware of the distress and oppression caused by precarious economic conditions that, coupled with systemic racism, deprived his mostly Black neighbors of a stable life. As a young Kucinich began to work in efforts he believed in and to which he was fully committed, he was immediately caught in a web of corrupt monied interests--both in their legalized and illegal forms. 

On this week’s “Scheer Intelligence,” Kucinich joins his longtime friend Robert Scheer to talk about the untold dramatic events surrounding his rise in politics and why it took him so many decades to tell the full story. In the episode, Kucinich details his activism fighting the blatant attempts by the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI) to block the expansion of its competitor, Muny Light, a municipal electric system now known as Cleveland Public Power. To sway people to switch over from the public utility, CEI had purposely been creating blackouts in the 1960s--not unlike Enron did in California, as Scheer points out. The blackouts, says Kucinich, were just one example in a long list of crimes committed by the private utility, including corporate espionage and sabotage.

“That's where I arrived on the scene,” says Kucinich, “and I saw this going on and I thought, ‘Wait a minute, there's something wrong here. Why isn't anybody standing up and speaking out against this?’ So I basically volunteered to do that. I stepped forward and that changed my life. Little did I know that issue of public power, and my involvement in it, would cause me to get in the mayor's race in 1977 and actually be elected mayor. 

“The story, of course, doesn't end there; that's not even halfway through the story,” he goes on. “I got elected mayor and then the private utility, which was furious that I had actually blocked the sale [of the city’s electric system], came after me. I'm in my living room in Cleveland right now--I've been in this home for the better part of 50 years--and I'm looking at a wall that’s been plastered over where a high-powered rifle shot just missed my head by a fraction during the time that I had a petition drive going to try to block the sale legislatively.” Kucinich later learned from Cleveland police intelligence that he was the target of a Mafia hit. 

The two also talk about why the one-time Democratic presidential candidate, who is identified by many Americans as a staunch leftist, bristles at any term--including Democrat--that would narrowly define his perspective. Listen to the full conversation between Kucinich and Scheer as they further discuss his incredible political battles in Cleveland and in Congress.

The Division of Light and Power” by Dennis Kucinich. Photo courtesy of Dennis Kucinich.



Joshua Scheer