Voters here went to the polis yesterday to decide the fate of Mayor Dennis J. Kucinich, who is fighting off a recall attempt.
The citywide turnout was moderate, despite sunny weather. However, there was a heavy turnout in several key white words generally regarded as Kucinich strongholds.
Balloting in black wards, where recall forces were hoping for solid support, was especially light.
Kucinich, who at 31 is one of the nation's youngest big-city mayors, was elected nine months ago on a "power to the people," anti-establishment theme. He is a new bred of politician a onetime student activist who, working within the system, rose to power in city government. The recall attempt comes at a time when Cleveland's credit rating has slumped to an all-time low and polls show deep voter concern about worsening city services.
Yesterday's voting was Ohio's first Sunday election, arranged by the largely anti-Kucinich City Council in an effort to lower the turnout in wards sympathetic to the mayor.
Before the election, Virgil E. Brown, director of the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections, had predicted that only 40 percent of the city's 280,965 voters would cast ballots. Recent polls showed the mayor defeating the recall attempt. But a light turnout was seen as posing a threat to Kucinich, as persons favoring his ouster were not more inclined to vote than those supporting him.
However, the surprisingly large turnout in Kucinich's strongholds indicates that the mayor was successful in rallying his supporters. He had expressed fears, that his constituents might have been lulled into complacency by the polls.
So far, no big-city mayor has been ousted by recall in the past quarter century, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. Three other big-city mayors have escaped recall this decade: Wesley Uhlman of Seattle in 1975, and Frank Logue of New Haven, Conn., in 1976. A 1975 recall attempt against Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo never made it to the ballot.
Kucinich began the day yesterday with mass at the downtown ST. John's Cathedral honoring the late Pope Paul VI. He then toured churches and picnics, urging everyone to vote.
The recall campaign was sparked by Kucinich's March 24 firing of police chief Richard D. Hongisto, who now heads New York State's prison system. The campaign, however, soon escalated into a virtual political civil war as it reopened some old wounds in this troubled, politically charged city.
The predominantly black East Side was pitted against the overwhelmingly white West Side as Kucinich, before white audiences, charged that City Council President George L. Forbes was helping engineer the recall so he could become mayor, Forbes is the city's first black council president.
On the East Side, Kucinich, never very popular with black voters, them with repeated attacks on the city's police, who have never been held in high esteem by the blacks.
The recall issue also divided organized labor. The AFL-CIO supported Kucinich's recall because of a belief his opposition to tax writeoffs for new buildings and the expansion of a Lake Erie ore dock would cost union members jobs. The United Auto Workers a longtime Kucinich ally, supported the mayor's opposition to tax abatement. The mayor had also put UAW members into key patronage jobs in city hall.
The recall campaign also brought out traditional differences between workers and big business. Kucinich repeatedly accused corporate leaders here of siphoning of the city's meager resources to increase their profits at the expense of the city's poor neighborhoods.
Kucinich's strategy in the recall campaign was the same as it has always been in his 11-year career in Cleveland politics. The outspoken mayor, who has a master's degree in communications, expertly used the media to keep on the offensive.
He sought to divert public attention from the city's financialhwnd service problems with stinging attacks on his enemies.
He brought crowds in lower-middle-class, blue-collar neighborhood to their feet by telling them the recall started when he "stepped on some big toes downtown."
He said the corporate and political party bosses, backed up by the heavy firepower of both major daily newspapers which endorsed the recall, were out to get him.
The tune apparently played well.
A West Sider campaigning for Kucinich said of the mayor: "I know him personally and I can't stand him. But it will show the powers that be the little people are still running things."
City Council, suffering from an anti-government sentiment in the city, was another favorite Kucinich target. He accused the 33-member body, two-thirds of which endorsed the recall, of obstructing his programs.
He accused the council of stirring up labor problems by aggravating two wildcat strikes by police and one last week by city mechanics that halted basic city services for several days.
The recall committee, lacking Kucinich's acumen for political street-fighting, found it difficult to make Kucinich's brash style and the deteriorating city services major campaign issues.