Dear Mayor Sue Lesch,
I am writing this letter to you on New Year’s Eve, 2007. The reason for this letter is a comment you made in answering the questions posed to you by columnist Jim Busek in today’s paper. Specifically, the candidate for president, you would not vote for, you named Dennis Kucinich, saying something about his time as mayor of Cleveland as the reason.
Dennis has gotten a bad rap about his tenure as the mayor of Cleveland. When he was elected, he was the youngest mayor of major American city, and faced a huge plate left him by the previous administrations, including tens of millions of dollars in loans that had been taken out by the Ralph Perk administration from the biggest Cleveland banks and a city that was broke.
Shortly after Dennis took office, these loans came due, creating a dilemma and something had to be done. The Cleveland banks offered Dennis what they thought was the deal of the century, “if you agree to sell Cleveland Municipal Light (now called Cleveland Public Power, created by Cleveland Mayor Tom Johnson in the early years of the 20th century), the city owned non profit electric utility, to Cleveland Electric and Illuminating (now First Energy), the for profit utility. We, the banks, will rollover these loans and not demand payment.” The Bank executives obviously thought that Dennis being such a young person would easily agree to their wonderful offer and save the city from going into default, a situation that was not of his making.
Dennis said later, that when the bank executives made this offer to him, one thing that came to his mind was the empty jelly jar that his mother had kept on the kitchen counter to put spare change in. It was with this change that she paid the Cleveland Muni Light electric bill. He remembered that it was the low rates of Muni Light that enabled his family of 13 to have electric. He said that it was the sound of the clink, clink, clink of coins dropping in that jar, that was also on his mind. As he sat in the finely appointed board room, and these richly dressed bankers waited — expecting him to do their bidding and sell out the many Cleveland mothers who saved their spare change in a empty jelly jar to pay their electric bill. That is when he said no, rather than sell out the people of Cleveland, and took it on the chin. At the time, he was criticized and ridiculed for letting the city default on the loans, the city was broke, and the price that the bankers wanted was too high.
It did not come out until much later after he left office, what he had done for the city and its people by standing up to the financial interests who wanted to buy the city electric utility on the cheap. It took the city years to recognize Dennis Kucinich for his courage by facing down the bankers to preserve what is now a irreplaceable asset of the city of Cleveland. An asset that we used to have in Norwalk.
You once told me that speaking truth to power is a courageous act. What Dennis Kucinich did as mayor of Cleveland in preserving its utility was the essence of speaking truth to power, and remembering that it was those mothers dropping their change in the jar on the kitchen counter who he served, not the banks. That is why I support Dennis for president. He is the only candidate who speaks truth to power and will represent all of us as president.