Dennis Kucinich and FirstEnergy

by CATHERINE DONG

Presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich was cautious in his statements Saturday about the First Energy plant in Ohio that may have been responsible for the massive blackout affecting more than 50 million people across North America. He did not immediately point an accusatory finger at First Energy, emphasizing that the first priority must be to restore power and water to those who have lost it. Even the concerns he expressed about First Energy were carefully prefaced by the words "recent press reports indicate" and "if press reports are accurate," indicating his willingness to give them a fair shake, something that they were less than willing to give him 25 years ago.

Dennis J. Kucinich first made his name in politics by becoming the youngest mayor of a large city, when in 1977 he became the mayor of Cleveland, Ohio at age 31. He took over a city that was deeply in debt but, as these things tend to go, was soon blamed for the city’s financial crises. The city tried to negotiate the renewal of $14 million worth of notes held in local banks. A rollover, it’s called, and it’s usual for banks to agree. Not this time.

The banks had a get-rich-quick scheme up their sleeve. They wanted Mayor Kucinich to sell the city’s electric company, MUNY Light, to Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company whose parent company nowadays is, you guessed it, First Energy. Why did these bankers want that? Well, of the eleven directors of Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company, eight were also directors of four of the banks. And five of the banks held almost 1.8 million shares of CEI stock.

So the banks pushed the city into default and Kucinich lost his next re-election bid because of First Energy’s greed. Oh, yes, greed. Because in the 1990s, the people of Cleveland woke up to the fact that Dennis Kucinich had saved them all a ton of money. In 1998, the Cleveland City Council honored him for "having the courage and foresight to refuse to sell the city’s municipal electric system," saying he had saved Clevelanders more than 300 million — that 300 million that they would have paid to CEI if Kucinich had caved in. But he didn’t. That doesn’t seem to be his style.

Yet Kucinich’s run-ins with First Energy don’t end there. In March of last year, workers at the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Plant, also owned by First Energy, accidentally discovered that leaking boric acid had created a football-sized hole, 6 inches deep, in the head of the nuclear reactor, leaving only a thin stainless steel lining, two-tenths of an inch thick, which had begun to crack and bulge, to contain the nuclear reaction inside. "[T]hat’s not a lot of wiggle room between containment and Kingdom Come," wrote William M. Adler in The Austin Chronicle.

The plant’s been closed, of course, while it "fixes" things. Congressman Kucinich asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to revoke First Energy’s operating license for the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant, at least until the outcome of the criminal investigation against the plant. But the NRC decided last month not to revoke the license. Why would they decide that? Well, perhaps more puzzling (or is it all too clear?) is why the NRC promoted Sam Collins, the Director of Nuclear Reactor Regulation to a higher position in July — Deputy Executive Director for Reactor Programs. Collins was the management official directly responsible for overseeing the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant while its flaws went undetected. Apparently $450 million worth of flaws, and counting. Three-and-a-half months before the hole was discovered, Director Collins actually halted a government-ordered shutdown of the plant, after First Energy Corporation pleaded financial hardships, despite harsh criticism of his action from within his own Office of Inspector General. Coincidence? Or do the powers-that-be in Washington feel they want someone in charge who will give proper consideration to the needs of big donors to the Bush campaign, like First Energy. That’s right, First Energy donated $640,000 to the Bush campaign in 2000.

NYC’s City Council estimates $750 million lost in revenue to the blackout. Five deaths have so far been blamed on it. Remind you of another sell-out, when a certain mayor was asked to sell out his city for 15 million in city debts? And he didn’t? Except that this time, it looks like somebody did.

When Kucinich re-launched his political career in the mid-1990s, his campaign symbol was a light bulb. His slogan: Light Up Congress.

Dr. CATHERINE DONG received her Ph.D. in government from Cornell University. She has taught American politics and political ethics courses at Pitzer College and Chapman University. She is currently working on a book entitled, Practice Makes Perfect: Raising Your Kids to Make It in America. She can be reached at: cdong@theboojum.com

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