The fantasy of sitting down to dinner with someone running for President of the United States became a reality for several Downtown Jersey City residents on April 21 when presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich came to town.
The 60 year-old Kucinich, an Ohio Congressman since 1996 and former mayor of Cleveland, along with 29-year-old wife Elizabeth and campaign advisors, met with the residents and two reporters at the Brownstone Diner on Jersey Avenue.
The residents were Dale Hardman, Pam Andes, Steve Gold, Vincent Berrini, and Mike Francisco.
For the next hour and a half, Kucinich, with his wife by his side for a good part of the time, held court at one end of an extended table addressing his presidential aspirations, his 12-point plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq, his domestic plans, and other matters.
“I’m ready to be president of the United States right now,” Kucinich said.
Since his visit to Jersey City, Kucinich made headlines when on April 24 he called for the impeachment of Vice President Dick Cheney. He also participated in the first Democratic presidential debate two days later. But a number of national polls have Kucinich getting only 1 to 2 percent of the vote.
Andes said late week the encounter with Kucinich was “very surreal.”
“I tell people that he was at the Brownstone Diner, and they don’t believe me,” Andes said. “It was all very exciting.”
Andes said Kucinich plans to visit Jersey City again this fall when he is scheduled to visit the NJCU campus.Waiting for Kucinich
Rewind about four days earlier: Kucinich’s campaign reached out to NJCU sociology professor Dr. William Dusenberry that Kucinich wanted to meet with people in Jersey City.
Andes, a sociology student at NJCU, heard from Dusenberry about Kucinich looking to come to Jersey City possibly on April 21, since he would visiting several sites in New Jersey. The problem was, where could people meet him on such short notice?
That’s when Hardman, another Downtown resident, stepped in to help.
Hardman, with years of experience in planning meetings, screenings, and other events, started inquiring into local schools and several Downtown churches to host the event, but to no avail. Then, Michael Ryan, the owner of PJ Ryan’s Bar and Restaurant on First Street, offered to provide a meeting place with a one-hour window of 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.
But Kucinich and company weren’t able to make it until a few minutes before 9 p.m. that Saturday night. A suggestion of the Brownstone Diner as a new meeting place turned what was to be an informal political rally/get-together into an intimate dinner with Dennis. The radical Democrat
Enjoying a meal of eggplant and spaghetti, a tossed salad, and hot water with lemon, Kucinich first launched into an explanation of his 12-point plan to get U.S. troops out of Iraq. It includes using existing funds to get troops and equipment out and establish a program of reparations for the Iraqi people.
He then explained why he believes he will be elected to the White House in November 2008.
“I think Democrats want someone who can win in November,” Kucinich said, “and anyone who has supported the war is going to have a tough time winning in November .”
He took to task the other Democratic contenders for the presidency such as Hilary Clinton, Barack Obama, and John Edwards, for their refusal to call for the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq, which he referred to as the “defining issue” of this campaign.
On the domestic front, Kucinich is pushing for abolition of nuclear weapons, year-round pre-K education, and a particularly pressing need — universal health insurance coverage.
“People are paying $10,000 a year or more for health care, and half the bankruptcies in America are from doctors’ bills,” Kucinich said. “I am talking about the end of for-profit healthcare.”
He also was reminded of his grand vision to create a work program on the scale of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal as he traveled up Routes 1 & 9, seeing a crumbling infrastructure of roads and bridges.
“You can put millions of people back to work in America,” Kucinich said.
He said he can identify with the working class residents of Jersey City, growing up in Cleveland having lived by the age of 17 in 17 different places “including several cars.”
“The house I live in in Cleveland is the same house I bought in 1971 for $22,500 in a working class neighborhood,” Kucinich said. “This is not a persona that I am offering to the voters — this is who I am.” Meeting with Dennis
Berrini had admired Kucinich since his previous run for President in 2004.
“He’s speaking for a lot of people who do not have a voice in politics,” Berrini said.
Downtown resident Mike Francisco was “impressed with his depth of knowledge and sincerity.”
Hardman was taken with not only Kucinich’s sincerity, but also his passion, even as an underdog.
“I was impressed with the man on a whole,” Hardman said. “He shown genuine interest in the people he was speaking to.”
Gold said what he likes most about Kucinich is that “he actually reads bills and doesn’t take things for granted.” Ricardo Kaulessar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org