The chairman of his own city council recently labeled him a "racist" and "Communist." He is unloved by almost half his hometown voters-who nearly booted him out of office midway through his term in a recall attempt.

But Dennis Kucinch, the diminutive 30-year-old mayor of Cleveland says: "I'm having a ball. I could have moved the Emerald City to Cleveland and I wouldn't have gotten so much attention-those guys really did me a favor."

Those guys are the traditional business and political leaders of Cleveland who don't like the mayor's abrasive approach to governing. Yet with the city fathers jeering him, and the editorial pages of the city's two major newspapers against him, Kucinich managed to keep his chair in the high-ceiling, tapestry-lined mayor's office during a recall vote in August. But in about six months he must begin campaigning all over again-his two-year term expires in November next year. And if he wins, he may well become a political figure who could build a national constituency.

Kucinich is an intense young man. On recent commercial plane flight from Washington to Cleveland, he complained about the bumpy takeoff from National Airport. Some mild turbulence bothered him. And a slight change in the angle of the nose during landing brought, "Are we going up again?"

His seatmate asked if he were afraid of flying. No, he said, it was just that he liked to be in. . .control, a luxury he could not enjoy as a passenger abroad a 727. Justbeing in the cockpit would reassure him, he said, that the pilots were doing their jobs correctly.

When he is in control, when he's speaking to crowds, Kucinich is the Tom Hayden of the Midwest. Like Hayden, he thinks the present economic system should be restructured. "Urban populism" is his rallying cry.

"That's defending the rights of poor and working people, adapting the present economic system to the requirements of those whose labor has helped to produce the wealth," he says. "The power of the government in America has been in the hands of big-business corporate America. The personnel of corporate America and government have at times been identical, and their goals are the same: the enhancement of their own wealth and power at the expense of the powerless and unrepresented."

There are those who argue that has nothing to do with running a major city whose downtown has prompted a play on the old joke they used to tell about NBC: What's the difference between the Titanic and Cleveland? Answer: Cleveland has a better symphony.

Kucinich argues that his urbampopulism has everything to do with the savings of Cleveland. If he's right, and if he can convince the voters of the heavily ethnic, working-class city that he's their man, he may not be the one-tern mistake his detractors say he is.

Footnote: His wife Sandy, a former schoolteacher who works as an aide for her husband without pay, is a political wife who approaches the game calmly. Instead of nervously monitoring precinct returns during her husband's mayoral election, she turned off the radio and television and, in one day, read the thick bestseller, The Thornbirds.