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The Charge of the Muny Light Brigade

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Posted on Dec 14, 2006
Dennis Kucinich
From Kucinich.us

Then-Cleveland Mayor Dennis Kucinich in 1978, when he was under siege by Cleveland’s business community, its media and many local private interest groups—all of which were pushing him to sell the city’s publicly owned municipal power plant.  His principled refusal to do so kept him out of public office for the next 20 years. He now serves as a U.S. congressman from Ohio.

By Joshua Scheer

(Page 2)

TRUTHDIG: When the chips fell, they fell pretty hard. You were forced out of public life for nearly 20 years. In hindsight, do you stand by your decision to do this?

KUCINICH: Every public official or aspiring public official who would read this interview should remember that when you take a public trust, the most important thing is to defend the public interest. There’s always some kind of a deal out there where someone is out there to convince you that if you just go along with this particular matter, it’ll be good for your career; it’ll show people that you know how to come to reason. Deals like Muny Light are out there every day for politicians who want to get in with certain interest groups, who want to advance their career. This isn’t condemnation of people who do it, but that’s just so much of what politics is about: People decide, “Well, I’m going to do something I really don’t like, but I’ll stay in office and I’ll be able to help people some other time.” There are millions of little bargains that take place like that every day. It’s just that I saw something else: I saw that this had immediate economic relevance for the people of Cleveland, and also for everyone who was ever in public life who felt like they needed to take a stand and were looking for the courage to do it.

Because any one of us can inform all of us that it’s OK, that life is going to go on, that you can stand up for what you believe in, that you don’t have to sell out, that you don’t have to sell your soul, that you don’t have to let someone else determine the circumstances under which you are in public service.

So this was a wonderful opportunity for me, having been the youngest mayor of the city of Cleveland, who had this chance to stand up for the public interest—at a critical moment, when everything was on the line, and all the odds were stacked against me ... I stood up for the people.

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And years later they knew I was right. Years later they put me back in the state Senate, and they followed up by putting me in Congress, and I win elections in Cleveland now by huge majorities. And I’m grateful for that. But I knew in 1978 when I refused to sell that electric system, I knew the bank was going to follow up on its threat to put the city of Cleveland in default. I also knew I’d lose the next election—which I did. But there are, believe it or not, some things more important than holding public office. And what’s important is that when it comes your turn to make the decision, you stand up, you don’t relent, and you—in the words of “Prometheus Unbound” by Shelley—you defy power which seems omnipotent. And that is what it means to be joyous and free. If you are going to want to be a torchbearer for the freedom of the people, you have to be free yourself.

TRUTHDIG: There’s a lot of debate over the regulation and deregulation of energy companies. But this was not really a deregulation-regulation debate, right? You were trying to prevent a monopoly.

KUCINICH: Right. This was an issue of: Do the people have the right to own their own utility? The question is: Is there such a thing as the public domain? Is it appropriate for governments to operate water systems, sewer systems, parks, libraries, public services? The man who founded Muny Light 100 years ago, Mayor Tom Johnson, said something to this effect: I believe in the public ownership of all municipal service utilities, because if you do not own them, they will in time own you. They will rule your politics, corrupt your institutions, and finally destroy your liberties.

The issue of public ownership has huge implications today for the people of the United States:

It relates to whether or not we can have a public retirement system like Social Security, which has been under attack in a privatization scheme.

It relates to whether or not we can have a public health system through a universal single-payer system instead of this system we have today, in which 100 million people are either uninsured or under-insured, because the system is held by private interests.

It relates to the question of whether public education is going to be adequately funded.

It relates to the theft of natural resources—of oil companies using their power to get leases and mining companies using their power to grab public lands, or everyone looking at public resources as something to be looted.

This same destructive impulse is evident in the policies of the International Monetary Fund—the so-called structural adjustment policies, which force communities to give up publicly owned assets in order to gain access to capital, and then the people end up paying exorbitant amounts of money for services which used to be provided directly to the people.

This question of public control was at the center of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s farewell speech, where he said to beware of the military/industrial complex. Today we see the privatization of war reflected in mercenaries and contractors in Iraq, who will make of the war in Iraq a perpetuating industry.

It relates to this destructive ethic of privatization, which is being visited on the people of Iraq right now, with the attempt by interest groups to push changes in national law which pave the way for the privatization of the oil industry.

These are the kinds of questions that are central to issues of democratic governance. These are questions that are central to the very idea of a polity which exists for the public interest, as opposed to the private interest. So go all the way back to Dec. 15, 1978, and my decision had implications far into the future. And I can see the same kinds of schemes that are out there today that try to steal or defraud the public of what is really a heritage of the people. And for my part, what I learned in Cleveland in 1978 is that it is possible to stand up; and you may pay a price, but what is the most important thing in life is the triumph of principle; and nothing, no high office, no monuments, no false praise from media working against the public interest, is a substitute for being at peace and one with integrity.

TRUTHDIG: Thanks for shedding light on this; because when you read encapsulations of your public career, you usually only read that you ended your mayorship in controversy.

KUCINICH: When people look at the issue of default and they connect it with my name, they should also connect with my name a “Not for Sale” sign. They should connect with my name the essence of public power.



*Truthdig interviewer Joshua Scheer worked as an entry-level staffer on Kucinich’s state Senate campaign and was later a summer associate in his congressional office. In this weekly interview series, Rep. Kucinich gives his take on the goings-on in Congress in the wake of the Democrats’ victory and addresses other matters.


New and Improved Comments

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By Chris Rahe, December 16, 2006 at 10:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I supported Dennis Kucinich in his 2004 presidential campaign and I will certainly support him for 2008. This kind of integrity is exactly why.

Does anyone think Hillary Clinton won’t sell us out any chance she gets? Does anyone think John McCain is really some kind of maverick, or just another Republican poodle?

I want to like Barak Obama, but so far his record shows a disturbing timidity when it comes to standing strong on principle.

Dennis Kucinich is exactly what this country needs right now!

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By FatFred, December 16, 2006 at 9:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Now, if we could only get the MSM to give Dennis some truthful coverage in their papers and other media formats. People might then understand that here is someone with courage and integrity who would make a wonderful president.

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By Jean H. Fisher, December 16, 2006 at 9:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

What a wonderful world we would have if more people were like Dennis Kucinich!  We should all listen to him before it is too late.  If we don’t stop these everlasting wars for greed and profit it might well soon be the end of mankind.

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By Kehla, December 16, 2006 at 9:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am living in Europe and when I speak with people about Dennis Kucinich, they wonder and ask me why I am so enthusiastic and fond of him, who this man is, and I like to quote (among others facts) this event in his life, to show what great model of absolute integrity he is.
I also deeply appreciate what his wife Elisabeth is now doing to support the work of Dennis Kucinich, that is a “Gift of Heaven” to all of humanity on Earth.
Thank you both, from my Heart.

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By Sidney Kirkpatrick, December 16, 2006 at 8:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We can always count on Dennis to speak the truth, however difficult that truth is sometimes hard to accept.  Leadership among are elected officials is a rare thing - Dennis has what it takes.

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By Jean Thomas, December 16, 2006 at 8:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dennis Kucinich exemplifies the saying “Speak Truth to Power.” No wonder so many politicians, both D and R, want to discredit him! Dennis has earned the support of the grassroots. We need more leaders with his integrity and courage.

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By steve banyai, December 16, 2006 at 8:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

THAT is why i was democratic rep. for galveston, texas, to the state convention. KUCINICH FOR PRESIDENT

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By peter powell, December 16, 2006 at 8:19 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The multi-national corporations that run our government and decide who gets elected through manipulating the media, which they own, have kept Americans so uninformed that Bush was elected twice. We disinfranchised Americans need a candidate that will stop corporate control and makes it his platform to end this horrible misuse of power (which includes the military-industrial complex).  We need a candidate that opens our eyes to an America that some call fascist and some call a plutocracy, and promise to make America a strong democracy again.  We need a candidate that keeps religion out of politics and stops letting religious right issues overshadow the real issues of poverty, health care, education and the environment. I think Dennis would do this.

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By george lyne, December 16, 2006 at 8:17 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

i remember thinking when this happened that dennis may have been the only elected official in the country with any balls.  i still think that way!

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By Eda Rassner, December 16, 2006 at 7:51 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It will be a happy day when this country is ready to embrace the values of Dennis Kucinich. Dennis Kucinich takes me to higher ground again and again. He exudes the courage it takes to live for the good of the whole, which ultimately is the recipe for the survival of humanity and this earth.

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By peter powell, December 16, 2006 at 7:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Aha! By deleting the Autofilled Zip code and putting in your SUBMIT WORD my last message was sent.  Not an immediate connection for this computer illiterate who lost a long well thought out comment for Dennis before realizing how to do it. I’ll try to repeat that comment in my next submission.

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By peter powell, December 16, 2006 at 7:34 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

First of all, you assume that we are all computer literate and that we know what to do with SUBMIT THE WORD BELOW.  I typed, which I hate to do,  a long comment which was immediately lost because I didn’t do what you ask, whatever that may be. So I’m going to try to send this to you and hope I can figure out how not to lose it and then my real comment will follow.  Am I supposed to type “stock 42” here?????? or in the space below “stock42”  which my auto-fill function (ever hear of MACS) filled in with my zip code???????

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By Dave, December 16, 2006 at 7:10 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The principled integrity of this man, Kucinich, arises out of a proper spiritual conviction. Can the electorate recognize what they have never before seen in public politics? Even when acting in our own interests and the broader interests of humanity and the planet, the message will only resound if not drowned down or ignored by the media. What can be done to promote Dennis and his message ? The media should be hungry to report on this “very different” politician. I believe his time may have finally come, after so much Republican abuse of the public trust and the Democrats dereliction of their duty to oppose it. Dennis Kucinich is the only true message of hope. If the more traditional media sources would only apprehend that.. It is what America wants and needs.. And I have faith that the people will embrace it if they are expopsed to it.. Marketing it and funding it (independent of self-serving lobbies) is the only challenge.

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By krivka, December 16, 2006 at 6:35 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This story has been known for years by those who are interested in truth rather than the canned news we have been fed over time. I was a resident of thhe city as well as a Kucinich fan (it’s hard not to if you ever get as chance to meet him,) but unfortuantely the majority of Clevelanders can still spout off the party line on how he supposedly drove business from Cleveland, and the City is in the shape it is currentlyy in because of him. it is utterly ridiculous, but I am glad that Mrs. Kucinich brought this out now for public review. as it is about tiime this story gets another shot at a national debate.

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By Cindy Ginart, December 16, 2006 at 5:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dennis Kucinich is the man we need as our president. We are facing a new day and new time and he represents, most definitely, the evolutionary leap necessary for this country to progress to a union of all people instead of the corporate union that we currently have. We need his honor, his integrity, and his humanity.  With this kind of leadership we can then work for a future in which people of his caliber are the norm rather than the exception.

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By Walter, December 16, 2006 at 5:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you. Dennis really is an inspiration.

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By Don Slepian, December 16, 2006 at 5:00 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I am very glad to see this article - I have been a Kucinich supporter for the last three years.  Please link this interview and edit the Dennis Kucinich article in Wikipedia.org which has quite a lot of the “Dennis the Menace” point of view and very little positive information.  The forces arrayed against Dennis are just as powerful today.

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By Michael Carano, December 16, 2006 at 4:59 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Rep. Kucinich operates on a level the should be the benchmark for those seeking politcal office.  Let’s face it, moneyed interests not only now decide what legislation will get passed (and unfortunately now too often helps write the legislation) but too often through their power and influence decide who will get elected. 

Rep.  Kucinich obviously sees his charge as “representing the people” and thus pushes for goals that put the interests of those who elected him over those who want to work the system to benefit financially from friendly legislation.  Though we live in what too often is a cynical age, Kucinich stands for the ideal upon which our nation was founded—a representative government that makes government work for the will of the people. I applaud a congressman who actually believes in that, and who works to make that a reality. It is wonderful to see a politician who have the power to imagine a better future than seeing his political life as “business as usual.”

Ohio’s original constitution gave the state the right to decide how long a corporation could exist, what practices it could engage in, and how it should operate” it did so because the simple idea was that commerce should serve the interests of the people. Of course with the subsequent giving of corporations “personhood,” a grave upturning of how our democracy should operate, corporations now operate with limited liability, and the present system of regulation actually builds a moat around corportations so that their protections grow while the protections of those who originally where the heart of our democracy shrink.

Kucinich’s standing up for the people of the city instead of for those who want to profit by being aided and abetted by our political system is not some pie in the sky kind of thinking. It is at the core of what it means to be a democracy, and his standing up for the right of the people to have access to Social Security, Health Care, or any other type of program that benefits “the people” over the special interests is the kind of thinking that once propelled our Founding Fathers to take matters into their own hands against the king and his grip on the people. 

Kucinich speaks to the core of what it means to be self-governed, and it is time the people remember or get reintroduced to this once familiar idea and not allow it to be relegated to the dustbin of history.  We need more elected officials willing to take the courageous stance needed to put people first.  Kucinich is in the vanguard of that movement, and he should get the support a visionary needs to make his ideals and goals a reality.

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By Michael Duffy, December 16, 2006 at 4:41 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All movements start at the grassroots level. Dennis Kucinich is a direct link to Thomas Paine who coined the phrase “The United States of America”. I feel connected to any American patriot.
As I see your patriotic passion is well rooted.
Thank you Joshua Scheer for spreading the truth.
Regards,
Michael Duffy

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By Robert R. Scattergood, December 16, 2006 at 3:52 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for presenting this article. While I endorse his stance concerning public domain and the rights of the people to their own resources in accordance with their own declared needs, this is all very well and good.

However, I believe the fact remains that if Mr. Kucinich truly has understood the underlying reasons for the delimited social development we are laboring under, then he will also surely realize that he needs to publicly expose the Democratic Party for what it actually is while at the same time disassociating himself from the deliberate fraud their “party” and platform represents.

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By janet evans, December 15, 2006 at 11:54 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hallelujah…a politician with principles…there is hope for us yet!!

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By rober t A. davies, December 15, 2006 at 8:44 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It’s gratifying to know that a man like Kucinich is considering a run for President. Unfortunately another fine man, Sen. Finegold, is not running. While I agree with everything Kucinich says, I wish he didn’t repeat himself so much.I suppose that’s a lot better than Hilary’s insincere glibness and Bush’s lies and wrenching of the language.

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By ripples of hope, December 15, 2006 at 5:40 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“Of course to adhere to standards, to idealism, to vision in the face of immediate dangers takes great courage and takes self-confidence. But we also know that only those who dare to fail greatly, can ever achieve greatly.

It is this new idealism which is also, I believe, the common heritage of a generation which has learned that while efficiency can lead to the camps at Auschwitz, or the streets of Budapest, only the ideals of humanity and love can climb the hills of the Acropolis.”

RFK.

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By CK, December 15, 2006 at 3:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Jesus H. Christ, would you people GET OVER Kuninich already? I mean, WTF? He is an absolute zero as a candidate.  Putting him on the front page just makes Truthdig look pathetically out of touch.

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By Rowdy!, December 15, 2006 at 2:14 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kucinich=Integrity
Kucinich=Leadership
Kucinich=Wisdom
Kucinich=Foresight

Just imagine if you will, what Dennis’ reaction would have been that certain day back in September 2001… of course, had we listened to men like Kucinich, the world would not be in the mess it’s in today.

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By William Bloch, December 15, 2006 at 1:35 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a result of the default, did the city stop paying its bills, stop paying salaries?  What happened to the city credit rating that might have prevented it from funding future public works projects?

I would love to see an analysis that takes into account all sides of the issue and that evenhandedly analyzes the consequences.

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By Norm Ezzie, December 15, 2006 at 12:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As a resident of the 10th Congressional District here in Cleveland Ohio- I can state here with no reservations whatsover,this business of “running for President” is just an “insurance card” to keep his name in the media! His real goal is to secure a seat in the United States Senate! Dennis does only one thing really well- campaign! His voting record is dismal at best,you cannot name one real piece of legislation that he purposed,that was voted on and passed into law,and benefited our district! For more from Cleveland,and the real news-please log on at: http://www.storminnorm.com  Our InTheNews pages has dated material,that proves our accuracy-by the month! Again,” Only In Cleveland” can a indivdual like Dennis shout out his clarion call-and never mention he represents the #1 City in America that suffers in poverty and we’re listed #7 as one of the most dangerous cities in America too!! Nice legacy,heh???

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By Quy Tran, December 15, 2006 at 12:45 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We really need the new young blood in The White House.

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By Roger Drowne EC, December 15, 2006 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

We have thrown OUR support behind

Dennis 4 President of the USA

  What Fun Old Age Has Become… Except 4 War, Hate, B.S. etc.

Photo… of Dennis Kucinich & Roger Drowne EC

Love U All,

Dennis Kucinich   &  Roger Drowne EC - Talk Community, N.H. USA Earth, About, Oct, 2004

more info photo at…

http://www.RogerART.com

Also, Roger is NOW running 4

.  President of Planet Earth

see Our Platform at above web address

Thank U, another Earth Citizen

Go Dennis Go… We ALL Have Your Back
.

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By john in california, December 15, 2006 at 11:46 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kucinich is a little guy with a lot of fight. I don’t think it is egoism that has him tooting his own horn, but he has a kind of outspoken objectiveness about himself. It’s like he’s saying “Look, I’m an object lesson. You can make yourself into who you really are if you’ll just drop your fears. You will pay a price, but it is not as high as losing your soul.” Because he had practiced living the truth, he was able to see and say the obvious about bush and Iraq from day one. During the 2004 campaign I dimissed Kucinich, not for his views, but for his ‘electability’. I won’t make that mistake again. Sign me up. I’m going to work for this guy.

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By RPRodriguez, December 15, 2006 at 10:11 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It boils down to the question: who do you trust more in the administration of public infrastructure, officials who are accountable to the electorate or to elected officials, or CEO’s who are accountable to shareholders and profit motive?

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By Via, December 15, 2006 at 7:57 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you for this interview.  I will read more about Kucinich.

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By ti, December 15, 2006 at 6:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr Scheer & Truthdig -

Thank you for sharing this story.  Everywhere else this story is recast as “incompetent young mayor brings city to its knees”...  Good to hear the other side of the story. 

You’re performing a valuable and patriotic service.

Now, if we could only get some of the wretched invertebrates in congress to heed Mr Kucinich’s (and the people’s!) call to starve this shameful episode in Iraq…

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By Jaded Prole, December 15, 2006 at 5:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Kucinich may be the only member of Congress with unshakeable prinicples. He is the kind of leader we need.

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