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Exit, Stage Left 

Is this Kucinich's Encore?

Cleveland is bad at goodbyes. There was John D. Rockefeller, driven from town by zealous county officials who wanted to double tax him. That's why he built the University of Chicago there instead of here.

There was George Steinbrenner, who left after a drunken frozen-food baron reneged on his offer to sell the Cleveland Indians. Steinbrenner settled for the Yankees — for less money — instead.

Art Modell couldn't win here but did in Baltimore, and LeBron is doing the same in Miami.

But when Congressman Dennis Kucinich recently stated that he's considering a move to Washington state, the town mostly just yawned.

That's a troubling response for a guy who deserves more historical consideration. After all, he is the classic Cleveland anachronism, a man born a century too late to fight the long-departed demons of the Industrial Revolution. That's why he turned to theater.

Kucinich uses more greasepaint than Playhouse Square. He has the alchemy to make strident headlines that appeal to the blue-collar ethnic guys who live for bad football and Bud Light.

With Dennis there comes a reckless audacity that dates as far back as the night when he chugged ten martinis as a copy boy at The Plain Dealer. Legend has it that it almost killed him.

He did his best to kill the town back in the 1970s, as half of the comic team that made Cleveland jokes part of American late-night television. Kucinich and former Mayor Ralph Perk gave the town one of the most hilarious decades in city history and sent Cleveland into default for a punch line.

The Municipal Light Plant, now called Cleveland Public Power, had a long and tortured history, politically and electrically. An idea left over from the populist era, the plant was supposed to compete with the private power company and keep rates down.

Truth was that the city had let the plant go to ruin and had to buy electricity to supply customers. Banks contended that with the city's books a mess thanks to Perk, it should sell the plant.

In the midst of the dispute Mayor Kucinich, with typical thespian flourish, held a press conference on the steps of the old Cleveland Trust Building at East Ninth and Euclid. He announced he was withdrawing his $9,200 of personal savings in protest of the default.

As he was doing so, his mentally troubled brother was robbing a branch bank on the other side of town.

In the end, that default was comic opera, a pyrrhic victory for Dennis, who survived a recall only to lose the next election; a humiliation for the city; and yet another blow to a business community that has never quite understood the city's arcane politics.

But give Kucinich credit for rising from the political ashes of defeat and going on to become a seven-term congressman from the West Side. Now the master thespian believes he is being redistricted out of his seat here and is eyeing a new one in Washington.

A political tactician and campaigner nonpareil, Kucinich is the last of a group of promising politicians who emerged in the 1970s — Celeste, Hagan, Feighan — and faded away while Dennis has endured. He's done it with stagecraft, portraying himself as the soul of the city, the very essence of the quirky ethnicity that binds us together and coagulates but never heals. Dennis is always there with the right words, usually just after the church or hospital or plant has closed.

He twice put on vanity campaigns for president, once saw a flying saucer, dabbled in foreign policy, vigorously opposes convention, is known in Hollywood, and opines with some regularity on national TV.

If he leaves, we'll need to honor him for all of this, and what better way than by naming the power plant after him: Dennis J. Kucinich Electric.

That way, he will be remembered by newscasters who upon occasion will inevitably announce: "Thousands of Clevelanders were without power last night when Kucinich failed during the storm that swept through the city ..."

I think Dennis would like that.

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