Get to Know the Candidate: 2008 U.S. Democratic Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in a conversation with Joseph Epstein hosted by The Commonwealth Club of California.
Ohio Congressman Kucinich engages in a wide-ranging conversation about his political views and background.
Joe Epstein is the former President of The Commonwealth Club's Board of Governors. He is a veteran of over forty years in the steel business. In 1970, he founded Sierra Pacific Steel, a full line steel service center, located in Hayward, California. The Company was sold in 1998. He joined with David Garner to start Sierra Steel Trading, LLC in 2002.
Epstein is the President of Sierra Steel Trading and oversees its on going activities.
Representative Dennis Kucinich
Dennis Kucinich is an American politician of the Democratic party. He served as the 53rd mayor of Cleveland, Ohio from 1977 to 1979, a tumultuous term in which he survived a recall election and was successful in a battle against selling the municipal electric utility.
He today serves as the Representative (Member of Congress) for the 10th District of Ohio. It includes most of western Cleveland, as well as such suburbs as Parma and Cuyahoga Heights. He ran for President of the United States in 2004 and has announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for President in 2008. He is currently the chairman of the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Good afternoon and welcome to this afternoon's program organized by theCommonwealth Club of California in association with ABC television, KGO news talkradio AM 810 and the Bay Area News group.I am Greg Jarrett KGO radio afternoon news anchor and your chair for Today's program.For information about the Commonwealth Club please visit the website ofcommonwealthclub.org and if you would take your cell phones and pagers out and turnthem off. We don't want any interruptions. During today's program we encourage you towrite questions for the discussions on the card you found on your seats and I am sure youhave already had ample opportunity to do that. Members of our staffs and volunteers willbe handing them out and collecting them throughout the program today. Today's programis being recorded for broadcast on radio and television so I am going to pause for a coupleof seconds here and then we will get that portion of the program under way.Good afternoon and welcome to another program in the Commonwealth Club's 2008Presidential Candidate's Conversation series. Today's program has been organized by theCommonwealth club of California in association with ABC-7 television, KGO news talkradio AM 810 and the Bay Area News group. I am Greg Jarrett, KGO radio newsanchor for the after news with Rosie Allen.Today's program features Dennis Kucinich, Ohio Congressman and 2008 democraticpresidential candidate. As with all of the presidential candidates appearing before theCommonwealth Club, we have asked congress man Kucinich to engage in a wide rangingconversation rather than giving a tradition speech to you here today. This should allow usto cover the greatest number of issues that are of interest to the American public and allof us who are here today. Let me give you a little bit of brief background on Congressman Kucinich.Dennis Kucinich was born in Cleveland Ohio in October of 1946 and he is the eldest ofseven children. He graduated from Case Western Reserve University with a bachelor ofarts and a masters degree in speech and communications. At the age of 31, Mr. Kucinichwas elected mayor of his home town of Cleveland Ohio and as such was the youngestperson ever elected to be a mayor of a major US city. Congress man Kucinich has been amember of the House of Representatives since 1997 and this is his second run for thePresidency of these United States.Mr. Kucinich voted against funding for the war in Iraq in 2002 and currently advocatesand currently advocates the immediate sensation of funding for the war in Iraq. Congressman Kucinich is also in favor of a national health care system, the elimination of thedeath penalty in this country, the repeal of the Patriot Act and the creation of a CabinetLevel Department of Peace. Today Congressman Kucinich will be in conversation withJoe Epstein President of Sierra steel trading and a member of the Board of Governors ofthe Commonwealth Club of California. Mr. Epstein is also past president of theCommonwealth Club's Board. Now here is the part where you applause Mr. Epstein is agraduate of the University of California at Berkley and serves on the board of advisors ofthe Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkley. Ladies and gentlemen please joinme in welcoming Congressman Dennis Kucinich and Joe Epstein.Thank you.Thank you. Well Greg Jarrett, thank you very much for that kind introduction and thankyou for being with us today Congressman Kucinich. I can see by reading today's newspapers that you are probably enjoying your time in California, may be not the fact thatyour plane flight was cancelled but you received favorable press from last night'stelevised forum in Los Angeles which was devoted to gay issues and equal rights.I would imagine that there will be some audience questions today on that topic as well.Also I want to assure you that none of the front runner candidates have had any influenceon today's program to try and robe you of your equal time. On the issue of equal time,you are recently quoted to saying that "candidates no matter how important or influentialthey perceive themselves to be, should not have the power to determine who is allowedto speak to the public and who is not." Today, sir this program is all about you, so whywe begin. As the moderator, I will cover a set of topics that the club will discuss with allof the candidates who come before us. And to allow for a coherent conversation, I amgoing to try a cluster, my questions in three broad groups. Though of course I have asuspect that there will be some overlapping.We are going to try to be forward looking in this discussion, exploring who DennisKucinich would be in the white house rather than talking about just the issues in the newspapers currently. First who is Dennis Kucinich as a person. What is the stuff of which hehas made and what makes him tick, secondly as President how would he contend with thevast array of domestic challenges that we face today and third how would he leadAmerica in our trouble world? And finally the underlying thought in my view of thisentire event when our program will be to answer the question what's sets you apart fromthe other candidates, and why should I vote for you rather than one of the othercandidates. So lets start with the conversation between us and then followingCommonwealth Club tradition, I will blend in and ask a series of questions that will begathered from our audience. Lets talk about the man. Tell us a little bit about your youthor the forces that shape you before we knew you on the public stage your family, your upbringing, the influences, that led you to a life of public service.First of all thank you very much for the opportunity to be here and thanks to all of you foryour patience and waiting for us we had our flight cancelled but because we know howimportant it is to be here with you we made other arrangements to get here and I want tothank you for being here and Joe to answer the question. I think it is important that youget some insight into what force is make any of us who would be President of the UnitedStates. I grew up in the city of Cleveland the eldest of seven, my parents never owned ahome and because we were renters as the family expanded, we kept moving, back then inthe 50's, days that have adds in newspapers that would say no children or one or twochildren, and as the family kept expanding we had trouble finding a place to rent. So wemoved and moved and move by the time I was 17, we lived in 21 different placesincluding a couple of cars. And Langston Hughes once wrote a poem where the - wheresome words that said "life for me haven't been on crystal stair" and there has always agreat benefit though and being able to learn the struggles that really every one goesthrough one way or another. So you can have a way of connecting with a very humanexperience that a lot of people have.Today in the city of Cleveland I live in a home that I bought in 1971 for $22500 youknow in this time of a housing bubble, you can think about that price and and so myvalues are really grounded and urban experience and a sense of commitment with thefamily because our family really held together despite all the forces that were trying totear it part and in a belief in public service which came from not only being the eldest ofseven but also from a catholic education where we were taught that our lives did notbelong only to our selves but were meant to be shared with others.So my journey has been not just a kind of a physical journey of movement but it hasbeen about a spirit of evolution, about an understanding of how really all one great humanfamily, and I see the responsibility for doing every thing that I can that helps strengthenthat family, that helps that the family experience love and that helps elevate that families condition.At the age of 23 you were at the time, the youngest mayor ever in the United States of amajor city, but it wasn't all candy and chocolate for you. You had an issue with organizedcrime and I believe that had to do with that the failure or the desire not to sell Cleveland'smunicipal utility to a particular business. Could you explain a little bit about that?Sure, first of all when I was elected mayor, I was 31, the youngest person ever electedmayor of a major American city, when I left the office I was about 90, I was elected on apromise, to save Cleveland's municipality on to electric system from a take over by autility monopoly, the city of Cleveland since the turn of the 20th century, had its ownelectric system which provided electricity at rates that were some times 25 percent lessthan the private utility and the private utility had a campaign going for decades wherethey were trying to put this little utility out of business so they could have a monopolyand charge higher electric rates and no one would know that there is any difference orcomparison and so when I ran for mayor, I said I am going to stop this effort to try toprivatize utility, I got elected on the promise to do that, my first act in office was to cancelthe sale, and that's when the story started.Because the major banks and Cleveland who had investments in the utility and who hadbusiness relation ships with the private utility then use their credit and the credit positionof the city to try to force me to sell the cities electric system. On December 15th 1978 Iwas given a an ultimatum by the head of the largest bank in Cleveland which said youare either going to sell that electric system, to this private utility in which that bank andothers had a financial interest, or we are not going to renew the city's credits and loansthat I haven't even taken out.So that was the moment of decision for me to decide who I was and what I set for, I wantto go back to those forces that shaped me growing up in Cleveland because when I was inthat board room, with the banker, and he was telling me that this is what you have got todo, my thoughts went back to the time when I was 11 12 years old and one of the manyapartments we lived in watching my parents count pennies at the kitchen table, trying topay the bills, and as I sat in that room with that banker, my thoughts went back to thatmoment, and I could hear those pennies dropping on that old metal top table, click - clickclick, and I understood that this office of the mayor that I held, that didn't belong to me,that belong to the people and that I was there to protect their interest, and so I said no tothe sale because it matters what people pay for electricity and it matters that people have agovernment they can call their own and it matters that in those private moments when noone is looking, people know that there is some one that can count on and do the rightthings and years later the people of Cleveland have saved hundreds of millions of dollarson their energy bills and on city electricity bills because of that the decision I made not tosell so you know it was an important momentSo a defining moment in your career, you are not 23 as I said you were 31.And I forgot to mention you know there was an organized prime interest in trying to forceme to sell - there were you know few assassination attempts but you know God bless America.Well, we are certainly glad you are here and so with Cleveland behind you, so tospeak I would like to know what makes you getup everyday. What inspires you to bedoing exactly what you doing to achieve, the job, the most difficult job in the world?You know I can't wait to getup everyday, I mean I just get up with the sense of meeting,the world and not really worrying about what's happening but to spend my time makingthings happen. Some people dream with their eyes closed, I dream with my eyes open andpour my energy into every moment because I believe that we are here to make adifference, we are here to change the outcome, we are here to use our energies and ourtalents, our hear and our spirit to engage and to create and so I am always inspired tomove forward and also when you are in love, it adds to that and amplifies all of yourenergies and all of your commitment, so thank you Elizabeth.Well, you are inspired to getup but anyone that is inspired also must have challenges. Sowhat would you say as the toughest challenge that you ever faced and what was that thatgot you through it?I mean it is you know when I grow up in the city of Cleveland and we kept movingaround you know there were times that we didn't know if we have a place to live insometimes we didn't and I came to experience the daily challenges of life in a way a lotof people do it isn't that there was one moment more significant than others like everydayOur family was concerned you know whether my dad had a job or whether we had placeto stay, whether we had food on the table, whether the bills are going to be paid. Is it kindof concerns that people have every day and so it wasn't just that there was one thing,there was a series of things, maybe dozens or 100s of things that were challenges that hadto be met and each one, each day gave me an opportunity to be strengthened to not beafraid of not having something because my life developed were things, material thingsweren't anything that would really rely on those. It became a life about being rather thanhaving and so there was always something more essential job and to my experience thenwondering about not having something and the challenges that would come up in a courseof a day, any given day were more challenges to the spirit, whether you know whethercould really endure and summoned moment and build from it and breathe all thatexperiences and become a lot stronger.I would have a very hard time answering this next question, and maybe my answer wouldbe Barry Bonds I don't know but from the answer I just gave you can probably summarizethe question. Do you have a hero? Some one you really admired living or dead.Well, I can tell you the kind of the people that I admired throughout history. I certainlyadmired Lincoln in his understanding of the imperative of unity. When he gave a secondinaugural, the words "with malice towards none, with charity for all." Really are thehallmarks could be a motto for the international policy that I intend to bring to ourcountry of strength through peace. The courage and equanimity of Gandhi inunderstanding the economic challenges and social challenges of the people of India andhow he understood there was a role for him in helping to bring about that transformationand his knowledge that transformation was not simply about a political evolution but aspiritual one as well.That was a very powerful understanding and you know in more present time, I had a greatdeal of admiration for Hubert Humphrey of Minnesota. He was some one who took thatcivil rights plank to the 1948 democratic convention and really took a stand on behalf ofsomething that was right, I admire that and then you know there is a person by the nameof Dr. Javier Lopez in the city of Cleveland. I want to tell you about him. He is apracticing physician who cares for the poor in the city who still makes house calls, whois dedicated his entire life to caring for people who isn't worried about whether he isgoing to be paid or not who is there for the people, who understands our health care systemneeds to be changed but he is someone who is one of my heroes became he is someonewho is so in viewed with the sense of love at people and commitment to humanity. Sothose are the kinds of people that I think about when I think about people that I really admire.When I was reviewing this - that particular question the name Ralph Nader came to mind.In the 2004 campaign later that praise you a genuinely a progressive person said the mostgreens were very friendly towards you and that they wouldn't run against you if youreceive democratic nomination. So my question is if you don't get the democraticnomination, would you ever consider a green party or a third party candidacy?Well, first of all you mentioned Ralph Nader, Ralph Nader and I have known eachfor more than 30 years and when I was working to save our electric system in Cleveland,Ralph Nader was the only national figure who came to my assistance as a mayor who wasreally struggling to save a city and I have a great deal of admiration for Ralph Nader andrespect for the commitment that he has made with his life for American consumers.I am - I consider myself a green democrat, I consider myself an independent democrat. Iconsider myself a libertarian democrat when it comes to basic civil liberties and Iconsider myself a democrat's democrat when it comes to the mainstream issues of jobsfor all, health care for all, peace and so I can say that you know I am in this primary andI'm in it to win and I am certainly in it to shift the democratic party in a direction were itactually aligns with the aspirations of people, there was a poll taken within the last weekand some of you maybe aware of it because over 70,000 people participated in it. It was akind of a - you could call a political taste test. You would - the people would take itonline would indicate were they stood on issues and then at the end they would hit abutton and see which candidate stand up aligning with. 53 percent of the people who tookthe test found out that they aligned with me and all the other candidates were you know ator near single digits. So you know I am the mainstream candidate in that Democratic Party.I happen to have seen that on the internet as well and it was amazing that although youare not high on the polls to win, you are very very high, higher than any of the othercandidates as you said in terms of an alignment with the electricJoe if I may - you know a couple of days ago we had a forum at Soldier's Field the AFL-CIOI don't know if any of you saw it but I had the best response of any of thecandidates and yesterday at the form in Los Angeles sponsored by the human rightscampaign, I had the best response than any of the candidates at Howard University over amonth ago, at the Tavis Smiley forum, best response than any of the candidates, I meanpeople are responding to the message and they are also responding to someone who answers the question.So - now, ofcourse when that becomes a novelty in politics, it tells you the shape of our politics.