ennis Kucinich is back in the running again, for the city council seat that became vacant last month with the death of Joseph M. Kowalski.

First elected to the council in his 20s and mayor of Cleveland at 31, Kucinich is hoping to make a political comeback in this city, where he remains a figure of intense controversy. At odds with the city's business establishment and the city council when he was mayor, Kucinich presided over the first default by a major American city since the Depression and later was soundly defeated by the current mayor, George V. Voinovich.

"I'll win. It's my neighborhood," says Kucinich, now 36 and all earnestness. Actually, he lives in a different part of the city now, but the neighborhood in which he is running (and now househunting) is the neighborhood in which he grew up. "It's been written that you can't go home again, but watch me," he says.

Kucinich is running against Ronald M. Popek, a 25-year-old resident of the ward who works in a restaurant and tavern that his family owns; attorney Edward Rybka, and five other candidates in the July 5 primary election.

Unemployed, Kucinich is at work on a book for Random House about his tumultuous years in Cleveland politics, including his version of the events that led Cleveland into default, almost obliterated the city-owned power company and ultimately cost him the office.

"Muny Light's problems were largely the result of anticompetitive actions by CEI Cleveland Electric Illuminating Co., the private company that once sought to buy Muny and a political hoax which would have succeeded, if I hadn't spoken out," Kucinich said in a recent interview.

"Cleveland was never in the trouble people said it was, and it's not as good as people say it is now," he added.

"It's been tough for us here," he said. "You pay a real price when you challenge the big money and stop it when it's trying to betray people. I'm not complaining at all. I wouldn't do anything differently. When you believe in something you have to be willing to pay the price, and I accept that."

The positive side of his defeat has been the time it has allowed him to spend with his wife and his 17-month-old daughter, Jacqueline Faith, he said. Sitting in his living room during a recent interview, Kucinich did a good Donald Duck imitation to entice his daughter down the stairs.

"If one would concede that I was right about Muny Light, you have to look at every other issue associated with Muny Light," said Kucinich, who portrays his days in politics as sort of a moral tableau with good and evil locked in mortal combat.

"I'm not telling you that I'm not ambitious, but I'm ambitious for the truth," Kucinich said. "So my returning to the council is going to be something of an apotheosis."