December 17, 2006

Kucinich Saves Cleveland Muny Light

Kucinich does more than blow hot air. In the 1970s, he stood ground against the plutocrats to prevent privatization of Cleveland Muny Light, saving residents tens-of-millions. He ultimately received an award from the citizens of Cleveland for this courageous, principled stand, for which he knew he would get hammered.

Attack on Muny Light: In the 1970s, Kucinich researched FirstEnergy's predecessor, CEI, attack the City's (people's) electric company. Kucinich exposeed CEI's efforts to put Muny Light out of business. In the 1970s, CEI was subjected to an antitrust review that revealed it had committed numerous violations of federal antitrust law. The review determined that CEI blocked Muny Light from making inftrastructure maintenance repairs. This was done by lobbying the Cleveland City Council make the Muny Light bonds uncompetative. The delay in repairs caused Muny Light to have to purchase power. CEI then worked behind the scenes to block Muny Light from purchasing power from other power companies. CEI became the only power company Muny Light could buy from. At that point, CEI sharply increased and sometimes tripled the cost of purchase power to Muny Light. As a result, Muny Light began to lose money. CEI used Muny Light's weakened operational and financial condition (which they created) as evidence of the public system's lack of viability and as proof that the only way the people of Cleveland could have reliable power was for the city to sell its electric system to CEI.

The antitrust review cited one incident when during a period of inclement weather, Muny Light asked CEI for a special transfer of emergency power. The transfer of power was conducted in such a way so as to cause an outage on the Muny Light system. CEI used the incident as further proof of the City's inability to operate a municipal electric system.

Corporate Media Role: Throughout this period, the Cleveland media, which received substantial advertising revenues from CEI, crusaded against the city's ownership of a municipal electric system.

Monopoly Nearly Forms: In 1976, CEI finally succeeded in getting the mayor and the council of Cleveland to agree to sell Muny Light, giving CEI a monopoly. At that time, Kucinich was clerk of the Cleveland Municipal Court, a citywide elected office. He organized a civic campaign to save Muny Light. People gathered signatures in freezing rain to block the sale.

Kucinich Runs for Mayor:He ran for mayor of Cleveland on a promise that if elected, his first act would be to cancel the sale of Muny Light. He won the election. He cancelled the sale. CEI immediately went to court to demand that the city pay 15 million dollars for power which it had purchased while CEI was running up charges to the city. The previous mayor had intended to pay that light bill by selling the light system and simultaneously disposing of a 325 million dollar antitrust damage suit. Kucinich's election not only stopped the sale, but kept the lawsuit alive.

Plutocrats Collaborate: The Muny Light issue came to a head on December 15, 1978, when Ohio's largest bank, Cleveland Trust, the 33rd largest bank in America at that time, told Kucinich that they would not renew the city's credit on 15 million dollars worth of loans taken out by the previous administration unless he would agree to sell Cleveland's municipally owned utility to CEI.

On that day, by that time, the sale of Muny Light was being promoted by both Cleveland newspapers, virtually all of the radio and TV stations in town, the entire business community, all the banks, both political parties, and several unions, as well as a majority of the Cleveland City Council. All Kucinich had to do was to sign his name to legislation and the system would have sold and the city credit "protected." The chairman of Cleveland Trust even offered 50 million dollars of new credit if he would agree to sell Muny Light.

Kucinich's Principles: "Where I come from it matters how much people pay for electricity. I grew up in the inner city of Cleveland. The oldest of 7 children. My parents never owned a home, they lived in 21 different places by the time I was 17, including a couple of cars."

"When I was in the board room with the Chairman of Cleveland Trust Bank, I was thinking about my parents counting their pennies and I could hear those pennies hitting the enamel top table. So, I said no to the sale of Muny Light to CEI."

Cleveland Forced into Default by Plutocrats: At Midnight, Cleveland Trust put the City of Cleveland into default. Later, it was revealed, that Cleveland Trust and CEI had four interlocking directors. Cleveland Trust was CEI's bank. Together with another bank, Cleveland Trust owned a substantial share of CEI stock and had numerous other mutual interests.

Public power was saved in Cleveland But Kucinich paid the high-price of Courage: He lost the election in 1979 with default as the major issue. Most political analysts considered his career over. He had been asked many times by other politicians why he just didn't make the deal and sell the light system, especially when his career was on the line. Kucinich said, "I believe that there are, in fact, some things more important than the next election."

After he left City Hall, he couldn't get a job in Cleveland, he almost lost his home, and his marriage fell apart. According to a US Senate Subcommittee studying organized crime in the Mid-Atlantic states, Kucinich had survived, through sheer luck, an assassination plot.

Cleveland Trust changed it name to AmeriTrust. The new mayor changed the name of Muny Light to Cleveland Public Power.

Muny Light Thrives: In 1993, the City of Cleveland announced that it was expanding Muny Light. It was the largest expansion of any municipal electric system in America. I had been long gone from major elected office.

A Cleveland Plain Dealer contacted Kucinich and told him that people were saying that the expansion could not have happened without him making a decision to save the system. People in Cleveland began to say that Kucinich was right not to sell Muny Light and they asked him to come back to accept an award of appreciation. So he did. He ran for State Senate in 1994 on a slogan "because he was right" with little rays of yellow light shining behind his name on my campaign signs. He was one of the few Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent that year in a state election.

Two years later, he was one of the few Democrats to unseat a Republican incumbent to gain election to Congress. His campaign signs had a light bulb behind his name with the words "Light up Congress."

Heavily excerpted from text by Dennis Kucinich.

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