Ohio voters head to the polls for a primary election Tuesday, and that can mean only one thing: The Cleveland Plain Dealer is griping about Congressman Dennis Kucinich.
There is nothing new, nor anything wrong, with newspapers holding members of Congress to account.
In fact, it would be good if more did so.
But the Plain Dealer, the uber-dominant daily newspaper in the city and its suburbs since the folding a quarter century ago of the feisty Cleveland Press, is not exactly holding the congressman to account. Rather, it is looking for every opportunity to put a former mayor, with whom it has sparred for decades, in his place.
The Plain Dealer’s penchant for pounding on Kucinich has little to do with the congressman’s failed presidential bids or his current advocacy on behalf of changing U.S. foreign policy, restoring a measure of balance to our trade policies or impeaching members of the Bush-Cheney administration for high crimes and misdemeanors.
While there is no question that Kucinich has put himself at odds with party leaders and pundits in Washington and Ohio – some of whom disagree with him ideologically and many of whom think his Democratic presidential campaigns of 2004 and 2008 gave new meaning to the word “quixotic” — Kucinich is hardly the only Cleveland-area House member who stretches the boundaries of the political etiquette. (Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who represents a neighboring district, mounted an necessary but controversial challenge to Congressional approval of the results of the 2004 presidential election because of unresolved issues with the vote count in her state.)
Nor is the newspaper’s gripe a personal one rooted in bad blood between individuals on the staff and a particularly-independent local official. While a few old timers remain from the days when Kucinich and the paper clashed on an almost daily basis, the penchant of the paper’s writers to pound on Kucinich knows no generational limitation.
The Plain Dealer’s distaste for Kucinich is institutional. Since the 1970s, when he was the 31-year-old “boy mayor” of Cleveland, Kucinich has rubbed the city’s economic elites – for whom the Plain Dealer has often served as a friendly newspaper of record – wrong. Kucinich never behaved as the Plain Dealer’s editors expected a mayor to behave. He refused to bend to the demands of the downtown bankers and the corporate CEOs who had gotten used to local officials – Democrats and Republicans – making populist noises but doing as they were told when it came time to choose between the boardrooms of the city’s office towers and the ethnic neighborhoods of the city and its working-class suburbs.
Kucinich’s refusal to permit the privatization of Cleveland’s municipal power plant was a classic battle between a city’s economic, political and media elites on one side and an almost unimaginably principled official on the other. The business community and its media mouthpieces tossed every charge they could at the mayor and most of them stuck. He was ultimately driven from office with a reputation so smeared that, when I arrived in Ohio as a young newspaper reporter in the 1980s, one of the first things I “learned” was that Kucinich was probably a bit unbalanced and certainly “finished forever” in politics.