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The Love Song of Dennis J. Kucinich
His term was tumultuous, and the city slid into default when Kucinich refused to sell off the municipal electric system. He lost his reelection bid. For years, he worked in consulting and in various business ventures while trying for a political comeback. In time, many came to conclude that his decision not to sell the electric system had saved customers money and Kucinich claimed vindication. He was elected to the state Senate in 1994 (slogan: "Because He Was Right") and to Congress in 1996.[an error occurred while processing this directive]
A feisty and combative populist, Kucinich is comfortable as an underdog, which may explain why he sees that flap about his UFO sighting in David-and-Goliath terms. He's still thinking of things he should've said in response to Tim Russert, the moderator who asked him about it during an October debate. He's convinced Russert was trying to "smear" him out of pressure from his corporate bosses at NBC and NBC's owner, GE, who fear his antiwar stance. (He believes this also explains why Russert hasn't invited him on "Meet the Press" in years.)
(Here's his account of the UFO: Twenty-five years ago, he saw three objects in the sky over MacLaine's house in Graham, Wash. He says he doesn't know what they were. MacLaine, who believes in alien visitations and has claimed that in a past life she was emperor Charlemagne's lover, recently wrote a book saying that when Dennis saw the UFO he "heard directions in his mind." Kucinich says that part isn't true.)
But Kucinich believes that, despite the UFO issue and the long odds, the people of New Hampshire are responding to his message. Indeed, he says, his challenge is to make sure he can manage all the new recruits.
"People are starting to move into our campaign at a rather fast clip," he says.
"The question," for many people, "isn't whether Dennis is the right person," Elizabeth says. "Everyone knows that Dennis is the right person. The question is whether they have the courage to vote for what it is they want."
Dennis Kucinich is for reducing the country's carbon footprint, ending the war, establishing a universal not-for-profit health-care system, withdrawing from the World Trade Organization and impeaching Vice President Dick Cheney. In front of a group of 100 in the tiny village of Center Sandwich, he speaks of "human unity," invokes Wordsworth and reads from his pocket-size Constitution. Elizabeth watches from the front row with a beatific smile.
He's in the midst of a long, wayward answer to an audience member's question about environmental stewardship when Elizabeth raises her hand to help him out. Dennis lets her take the floor. Elizabeth has been campaigning full time for her husband; she considers America her cause these days. She has the ability -- rare even among practiced politicians -- to speak extemporaneously in full paragraphs, without rambling or backtracking. Now she gives a succinct, eloquent speech about the need for new environmentally friendly technologies and sustainable architecture.
The crowd applauds.
"As you can see, I'll have help," Dennis says, grinning. A few moments later, they share a long kiss. More applause.
All of this is invisible to most of America, who know Mrs. Dennis Kucinich (if they know her at all) via caricature: the wife of that wacky UFO candidate, the hot redhead who -- oooh, a tongue stud!
Television interviewer: "Can we see it?"
Elizabeth: "No, you can't. Sorry."
Dennis: "That's my privilege."
Falling Into Place
After their first meeting that day in his office -- that Dennis hoped was soul recognition, but feared was wishful thinking -- Elizabeth walked out of the Longworth Building, found a place to sit and read the paper he had given her. It was his proposed billto establish a Department of Peace. She thought it was amazing. Dennis understood the "interconnectedness and interdependence" of humanity.
"I didn't expect the bill should actually be so . . . conscious," she says.
"I was still thinking about Elizabeth about two weeks later, sitting, working late in my office as I'm wont to do," Dennis says. (We're back in the tiniest town in New Hampshire, and Dennis and Elizabeth are on the couch at the inn, sitting close as always.) "It was about 7:30 at night and I was just sending a message out to the universe saying, 'Where is this woman? If there's anything to be done here, I need a sign.' "
And at that moment --
"At that exact moment, I get an e-mail."
It was from Elizabeth. A sign. Her automatic signature included a quote, something about her heart being as open as the sky. Another sign. They began exchanging e-mails. They discovered they were both scheduled to be in New Mexico shortly. Dennis was going to visit MacLaine and Elizabeth was accompanying her boss, who was giving a lecture. They arranged to meet. In the meantime, Elizabeth, propelled by a feeling that she should buy herself a blue ring, found one in a store and bought it. She called it her "Dennis ring."
"I really don't know," she says. "I just saw it and called it my Dennis ring."
They met up in Albuquerque. They stayed up all night talking in the lobby of her hotel.
After that, everything fell into place. Dennis invited Elizabeth and her boss to have lunch with him and MacLaine the next day in Sante Fe, and then MacLaine asked everyone back to her Sante Fe home. Elizabeth's mom called and got on the phone with MacLaine to thank her for putting her on the path towards complementary medicine in the '80s through one of her books -- which, as it happens, is a book Dennis helped edit. ("Amazing," says Elizabeth.) Elizabeth and Dennis stayed up all night again talking at MacLaine's, at which point Dennis told Elizabeth he loved her, and the next morning, upon leaving, Elizabeth said she loved him.
None of which surprised Shirley MacLaine.
"They were basically spiritual soul mates; that was very clear," MacLaine says.
And after leaving, Elizabeth looked down at her Dennis ring and realized that the silver design inscribed on her blue opal, which had previously looked like just an abstract pattern of triangles, was in fact -- if one looked hard enough -- two K's, back to back.
"Kucinich and Kucinich," she says. "I thought, 'Okay! So I bought myself my own engagement ring!' "
And when she moved into his place in Cleveland, the two-story frame house he'd bought in 1971 for $22,500, Dennis was cleaning out the closets and discovered a cardboard tube he'd never opened before. What he saw inside stunned them both. It was a handmade banner that supporters had given him during his 2004 run for the presidency, with all sorts of figures painted on it, and in the middle was a redheaded woman --
"Long, straight red hair, standing in the middle, head and shoulders above everybody else, under the word 'imagine,' " Elizabeth says.
"I mean, you can't make this stuff up," Dennis says.
Their days are filled with these sorts of moments, as when they go out for Chinese food and the fortune in Dennis's cookie tells him he has "integrity and consistency." ("Isn't that amazing?" Elizabeth says.) And then they turn the fortune over, and Dennis's Chinese word is "hat," and amazingly, Elizabeth just bought a hat before lunch.
And even the three-decade age difference, which could theoretically be an issue, doesn't register for the Kuciniches -- "I've never seen myself as time-bound," Dennis has said -- and that's why Elizabeth's father, who is three years younger than Dennis, calls Dennis "Son," and Dennis calls Elizabeth's father "Dad."
(Though the Kuciniches do have different tastes in music. "He really likes polka," she says.)
"I never really understood 'love at first sight,' " Dennis says. But when he met Elizabeth, he became a believer. And as he's talking, it suddenly occurs to him what pithy riposte he should have thrown back at Tim Russert: " 'I don't know about those UFOs, but let me tell you about love at first sight.' "
The world can be cynical, which is all the more reason why a long-shot presidential candidate must be pure and unwavering in his faith, must be unmoved by the vagaries of the public and the media -- by its interest in the superficial, in things like height and tongue studs.
"It's pathetic," Elizabeth says of the nation's fascination with her piercing. "I really wish people would -- "
"Actually, it works okay with the young people," she says. She says some time back she was out in Los Angeles, visiting an organization that works with at-risk youth and former gang members.
"This young lad was taking me around, Hispanic chap. And he was really nervous," she says. "We just, like, chatted initially, and at some point I laughed and he said, 'Oh my God, you've got a tongue ring! That's so cool! I'm going to get everyone to vote for your husband!' "
"Ha!" says Dennis Kucinich, looking amazed.
The happiest presidential candidate laughs and laughs.