His city has lost its bond rating and can't get credit, The biggest firm in his town has just canceled plans for a new downtown building. The biggest paper in town is preparing a series of exposes on his administration. And, most important, his job, which he has held only seven months is in jeopardy.
All those problems disturb Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich, but just for a moment that 31-year-old chief executive tees off on a little problem that bugs him, too: the nickname "Little Runt."
At a lean 5 feet 6, the mayor is no bigger than the average high school sophomore, and looks no older. For years he has laughed off jibes about his size, but now they are starting to frustrate him.
"It's, uh, ridiculous for people to criticize my physical size," he says in his careful, ponderous tone, punctuated by numerous verbal pauses. "Of all the things for my enemies to talk about. It's, uh, absurd."
The mayor's diminutive stature, of course, is a problem of image rather than the substance. But for Dennis Kicinich (pronounced kooSINitch), who took graduate courses in mass media to perfect his political style, matters of image, of appearance, have always been important.
It was image as an aggressive battler for the white working man, rather than any major substantive accomplishments, that won Kucinich the mayor's office last November.
And it is the same slashing, combative style, rather than any substantive misdeeds, that may lose him his office.
On Aug. 13, Cleveland's voters will decide whether Dennis Kucinich should be recalled after seven months in office. Polls indicate that the mayor is leading now in his fight to keep the job, but the margin is thin and the number of undecided voters high.
For the past two weeks, the mayor's forces have suffered almost daily setbacks. All three major newspapers - even the Plain Dealer, which gave candidate Kucinich a key boost by endorsing him last fall - have demanded his removal. Leaders of the black community have backed the recall almost unanimously, and white politicians from the "cosmo" (ethnic) wards, sensing a bandwagon, have started to do the same.
As a result, the once cocky young mayor is scared to death.
He paces nervously about his big office like a general under siege conferring with his lieutenants and deploying squardrons of city employes for saturation leflet bombing in the neighborhood.
The military metaphor seems particularly apt for this campaign, because the recall battle has turned the whole city into a political no-man's land.
There is no middle ground. Kucinich is either Satan or saint, depending on who is asked. The same goes for his opponents.
"The mayor is the supreme political prostitute," says City Councilman Basil M. Russo, in language typical of that employed by Kucinich's adversaries. "He's demented enough to think he's got political power here. But the only power he has is negative - threats, intimidation, vindictive actions."
The fighting mayor returns the fire shell for shell. His opponents, he says, are "either stupid or crooked, or maybe both." In one memorable speech, he described the city council as "lunatics," "buffoons," "fakens" and "liars." That outburst hurt him badly, but even now he is too combative to apologize.
"It was . . . inappropriate to say those things," Kucinich conceded last week, "but I don't regret it. No. I don't regret anything I say."
The warfare between Kucinich and the business and political establishement here began in 1969, when aided by Sherwood (Bob) Weisman, a hard-bitten political strategist and union organizer - he won a seat on the city council at the age of 21.
Subsequently Kucinich lost two races for Congress, but kept winning on the local level. Last November, the combination of Weissman's political savvy and Kucinich's zinging oratory eked out a narrow victory for mayor.
The new mayor and his alter ego hit city hall with all gentility of Sherman hitting Atlanta. Weissman installed in an office just outside the mayor's, seemed to take a diabolical glee in firing longtime employes. Kucinich seemed to delight in replacing them with appointees who infuriated the city.
A 21-year-old coed dropped out of school to take a job overseeing in police and fire departments. A 24-year-old with a few months' experience in a brokerage firm became the finance director. Richard Hongisto, a liberal, outspoken cop from San Franciso, became chief of police.
The pattern for Kucinich's administration was set early, when record-breaking snows tied up the city and its airport.
Kucinich promised the best clean-up in history,and made headlines by personally manning a shovel. But the job didn't get done. The mayor fired two members of his cabinet and blamed the problems on his political enemies.
When the city commissioner responsible for bringing new industry to town complained that Kucinich anti-business politics undermined the effort, the mayor drove him from office by sending investigators to ransack his files in a midnight raid. The job was given to an unemployed Kucinich loyalist who blames Cleveland's economic problems on the greed of private industry.
The mayor always has seemed to be battling somebody. He told the Little Sisters of the Poor they had no right to solicit contributions in City Hall. Their mother superior appealed to the council, which invited the ousted nuns back inside.
Then, in March, Kucinich got in a fight with his new police chief. Hongisto charged that the mayor was abusing the police force for political ends. Kuncinich, true to form, fired Hongisto.
The mayor did not realize, however, how popular Hongisto had become in 2 1/2 months on the force. The chief had gained friends in both black and white neighborhoods, and had won over the police force as well. His firing, coming on top of all earlier battles, started people talking about a recall drive.
"It was Hongisto, but it was more than Hongisto," says George Forbes, a tall dapper lawyer who is president of the city council. "There really wasn't any particular thing or policy that caused this. It was a general impression that this guy was so hostile all the time he couldn't get anything done."
The lack of a specific reason for the recall is particularly galling to the mayor.
"In this whole onslaught on me," he says, "nobody - not even the people who, uh, hate me most - has ever alleged that this administration is corrupt. They know we're not crooked.They don't have a single substantive complaint about my work as mayor.
"This whole recall has come about because there's been a real shift in the power relation. Those special interests who are able to deceive the public prior to my becoming mayor have lost power. Now they're fighting back."
That point has won considerable sympathy in the White "cosmo" neighborhoods that gave Kucinich has victory in November. To many people, the recall is a ploy designed to hand over City Hall either to business interests or to blacks.
Kucinich supporters say City Council set the recall election for Sunday to assure a large turnout in black wards, where many polling places are in church basements. That was the brainchild of Forbes, the council president and the most powerful black politician.
The mayor's campaign literature calls the recall a battle between Kucinich and Forbes. If enough white voters in this racially polarized city agree, the mayor should be able to stay in office. The western, white half of the city controls about 58 percent of the vote.
But the white wards have produced most of the impetus for the recall drive so far. Of the 40,000 people who signed petitions to force the vote, 85 percent came from the white side of the city.
If Kucinich receives that kind of treatment in his home territory next Sunday, his tormented term as mayor will come to a premature end.