Police Chief Richard D. Hongisto, who three months ago was called the best chief in the nation by Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich, was fired yesterday, climaxing weeks of feuding between the two.
Hongisto, 41, the constroversial former San Francisco sheriff, was fired, Kucinich said, for not documenting charges he made against the Kucinich administration of political interference in the police department.
Kucinich, who became one of the nation's youngest big-city mayors last year while campaigning on an anti-corruption theme, was incensed that Hongisto had told associates that Kucinich wanted him to soften a police investigation into a City Council payoff scandal and that Kucinich cabinet officials wanted their detective friends put into key vice squad jobs.
Kuclinich suspended Hongisto Thursday during a news conference in which the mayor publicly berated the chief. He ordered Hongisto then to document the charges, but Hongisto said he did not have sufficient time.
Kucinich took the action despite a wave of public opinion that seemed to favor Hongisto. West side Councilman Allen J. Koson said his predominantly Hongisto."They said, in effect, 'What in the world is the mayor doing to us?'" Kucinich is from that neighborhood.
A radio reporter said over the air yesterday, after conducting man-on-the-street interviews, "If an election were held today, Hongisto would be mayor and Kucinich out."
Hongisto's problem with Kucinich was more of a clash of style than dispute over policy. They both have displayed a history of being mavericks with a flair for theatrics. And both court center-stage attention in the mediad.
Kucinich, who ha a master's degree in communications, makes extensive use of the media to keep up his political image. He has a knack for timing, such as a visit to a picket line where a unionist had been gunned down by a guard or the time he carried a child stranded by a blizzard into a City Hall refuge, just in time for television news shows.
Once in Cleveland, Hongisto quickly attracted the attention of the local media. Reporters were fascinated with the former sheriff, who in San Francisco once went to jail rather than evidence elderly tenants who couldn't pay rent, who fought Anita Bryant's anti-gay campaign and appointed gays and blacks to top jobs in the sheriff's department.
Reporters carried glowing reports about Hongisto, who seems as at ease patrolling lavish high-society functions as seedy alleys in high-crime areas.
As chief, he personally apprehended burglars, rescued motorists stranded in cars by a blizzard and would even snowplow streets.
Hongisto surprised black civil rights activists here by speaking to them during a Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration and by acknowledging racist police policies while promising to reform the department.
He charmed senior citizens by promising them special police protection on their Bingo nights.
Even Cleveland policemen, who once traded locker room jokes about Hongisto and his gay friends, now praise Hongisto and are coming to his defense.
It didn't take long for Kucinich to tire of Hongisto. A month ago Kucinich ordered Hongisto to clear all interviews through the mayor's office. Kucinich has assigned City Hall officials to keep tabs on Hongisto, and they report his daily activities to the mayor or other chief aides.
As a further reminder to Hongisto as to who has the top billing in the administration, Kucinich ordered Hongisto to use a calling card that prominently features Kucinich's name.
Kucinich's attack on Hongisto has surprised even the mayor's closest political allies. They said Hongisto's success as chief has been a political asset to Kucinich - as the mayor figured it would - because it appears to have pleased the city's 40 percent black population while not alienating the whites.
"If this keeps up, Dennis will be a worried cabinet official in a reference to the mayor's battle with Hongisto.