The Prince and The Power

From Cleveland Magazine, April 1978
It was a Friday morning early in January last year, and Cleveland was being buried under another snowy assault from Mother Nature. While many people were just waking up and staring out their windows, wondering whether or not to attempt getting to work, Dennis Kucinich was already driving downtown. He was scheduled to present a speech outlining his plan for saving the Municipal Light Plant at the City Club that afternoon, and wanted to have a copy of it at the Cleveland Press in time for the paper's morning deadline.

The obvious publicity ploy nearly cost Kucinich his life. While on the freeway, he came within inches of a serious traffic accident. Undaunted, he pressed on and managed to hand-deliver his speech well before the deadline. Later that afternoon, Kucinich railed against the injustices of the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company in front of the City Club lunch crowd, using phrases that would become rallying cries for a small group of political loyalists who would help him in a petition drive to prevent the sale of the light plant.

The Press never reported a word of the speech.

This year, several days before Kucinich was scheduled to give his "First 100 Days" speech at the City Club, Press reporter Peter Phipps was in the mayor's office for an interview.

"How does your City Club speech look?" Phipps asked.

"It looks pretty good," Kucinich responded with a grin.

"No, c'mon," Phipps urged. "What are you going to say?"

"When is your article going to come out - before the speech?" Kucinich asked.

"Oh, yeah," Phipps said. "Thursday."

Kucinich sat back in his chair.

"Forget it. I'm not going to tell you what's in it."

Actually, Dennis Kucinich did not have his speech written at that point. But when he delivered it several days later, Phipps, along with reporters from The Plain Dealer and all three television stations, gathered at the City Club to cover it ft as if it were a crucial Presidential policy statement. They clustered around a table close to the podium and grabbed hungrily at copies of the speech being handed out by Andy Juniewicz, the mayor's press secretary. But in content, the speech was not much more than what had been dropped into the Press' city room wastebasket a year before.

Life obviously has changed dramatically for Dennis Kucinich during the past year. No longer is he a belligerent city councilman or a rampaging clerk of courts, hustling and scraping for every available inch of media space. He is The Mayor, and now the reporters come to him. In droves. They come not only from local newspapers, but from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Milwaukee Journal, Time and Newsweek. They come to see this enfant terrible of Cleveland politics, the outspoken maverick who has wrested the power from the clutches of the old guard.

In their haste to write of the new wave of political reform that is supposedly being spawned here, most have failed to notice that a remarkable thing is happening at City Hall. The machinery of city government has been taken over by a startlingly young group of political zealots whose fervor to stamp out corruption and lethargy is exceeded only by their devotion to their leader. And riding the crest of that wave of youthful energy, using the rhetoric of reform as a funnel through which he can turn the zealots' thirst for justice into a continual high-powered media blitz, is a man with mighty ambitions - 31-year-old Dennis Kucinich.

A prince ought to have no other aim or thought, nor select anything else for his study, than war, and its rules and discipline; for this is the sole art that belongs to him who rules. And it is of such force that it not only upholds those who are born princes, but it often enables men to rise from a private station to that rank.
- from Nicolo Machiavelli's The Prince, 1516

The art of accumulating power is one that Dennis Kucinich has practiced successfully for more than ten years. But now that he is mayor, he has turned what was once a game into something all his own - a holy war.

Although no one could have understood it at the time, the symbolic joining of hands at the Music Hall on inauguration day in November was an announcement of just that. We have the power, it said. Join hands with us and feel the power. Join hands with us as we embark upon our crusade to regain the sacred ground of City Hall from the barbarians.

City Hall employees had expected some kind of shakeup as a result of the normal changing of the guard, and also because of Kucinich's campaign promise of across-the-board layoffs - but they hardly anticipated the onset of a holy war. It did not take them long to find out that one was under way.

The very afternoon of inauguration day, Margaret White, a deputy director in the Community Development department, was talking with Betty Grdina, the tall, graceful, 24-year-old Kucinich campaign worker who had been named new departmental executive secretary. Mrs. White mentioned that she would be vacating her office so that Betty could have it, just as soon as another employee moved from his office.

That had not happened by noon the following day, when Mrs. White looked up from her desk to see Betty standing in the office doorway.

"When are you going to get out?" Betty asked. She was clearly unhappy over the delay.

"As soon as that guy moves," Mrs. White replied.

That obviously was not the right answer. "I'm the boss now!" Betty shouted in a voice so loud that workers in adjoining offices could hear her. "I have to have a place to sit!" she continued yelling. "How does it look for the boss to be with- SB out a desk?"

With that, Betty walked over to Mrs. White's desk, piled loose papers and folders into a stack, and deposited the stack in an empty cardboard box on the floor. She then walked across the hallway and ordered the employee who was supposed to move to start packing. No one in the department saw her again until late that afternoon, when she returned to her new, now empty, office.

That kind of scene was not unusual in the first days of the holy war at City Hall. In most departments, young people - incredibly young for the responsibilities they held, 21, 24, 25 - were either commandeering or being given desks near the new, regular departmental directors. In some cases, it was the director's desk itself they took over.

Since then, every department in City Hall has been staffed with at least one or two Kucinich loyalists. This is the group of young people who worked for Dennis in two Congressional races, carried the "Save Muny Light" petitions to every corner of the city, and staffed the Clerk of Courts office by day and stumped in the mayoral race on evenings and weekends last year.

Most were recruited by Kucinich while still in high school and were taught the ground rules of politics on the streets during Dennis' councilmanic and Congressional races. Over the past six years, they have been organized into a well-oiled machine that can leaflet three city wards on a Saturday morning with an efficiency and precision unmatched in local politics. They descended on City Hall with an abandon reminiscent of the Khmer Rouge assault on the Cambodian regime of Lon Nol.

Overseeing the takeover has been Kucinich campaign manager and long-time political strategist Bob Weissman, an intense, energetic man with an almost uncontrollable temper. Weissman made no pretense about how the new officials were being appointed. "The directors were selected for their expertise," he says. "The assistant directors - who are called executive secretaries - were selected for their potential and political involvement."

Strategically, the deployment of the political loyalists served two purposes: They would represent the views of the mayor in their department, and also act as spies. In their undercover roles, they could track down the cheaters and loafers that their leader had promised, time and again during the campaign, would be banished from the waterlogged City Hall payroll. At times, the crusade has looked less like an attempt to return the holy sepulcher of city government to the people than it has a rerun of a 1937 Little Rascals film. Not only are most of the crusaders young and inexperienced, but they have developed a reputation for being ill mannered, unconcerned about other people's feelings, and - strangest of all - they are actually proud that others consider them obnoxious.

Some of the takeover incidents bore a striking resemblance to a Little Rascals film plot. On the second day of the new administration, 21-year-old Tonia Grdina (Betty's younger sister), the new executive secretary to the safety director, walked into the budget and management office in search of payroll figures. A slight girl with bangs that continually fall into her eyes, Tonia is usually not taken seriously at first glance by men in three-piece suits. (It was her presence at the bargaining table during the police contract talks that prompted police negotia tor Bill McNea to complain that the city was forcing him to deal with a kid still wearing training bras.) Nonetheless, she was told that if she would have a seat, the acting director (the regular director had already resigned) would find the information she wanted and bring it out to her.

Tonia apparently did not have time to wait. She left the office and returned several minutes later on the heels of a fulminating Bob Weissman, who walked directly to the director's office and began banging and kicking the door.

"Open this door! Let me in!" he yelled. The flimsy partition walls of the inner office shook from the pounding, sending a picture of ex-Mayor Ralph Perk crashing to the floor. Once inside the office, Weissman continued to scream at the acting director.

"Just who do you think you are?" Weissman demanded. "Do you realize you're making a member of the Kucinich administration wait? I'll have your goddam job for this!" At the time, Weissman did not know that the man he was dressing down had tendered his resignation that very morning. And no one in the budget and management office realized that Weissman was not officially on the city payroll until several days later.

From the very beginning, Weissman and the Kucinich shock troops rampaged through City Hall in a "search-and-destroy" style. They wanted it understood that this was a well-planned effort to rid City Hall of its deadwood. And for those left behind, it was made clear that the spies were always watching, and that further layoffs were coming.

At early cabinet meetings, the main topic of discussion was always layoff and firing plans. Directors and their assistants were asked to recount the week's body count. Statements such as "I laid off 12 today" or "I got rid of six" were greeted by appropriate oohs and aahs, or occasional applause.

Weissman seemed to take a particular delight in the stories. "That's the way to do it," he would tell the young crusaders. "You go in there at 3:30, hand 'em their slip, ask for the keys, and tell 'em to be out by 4:30."

The entire dismissal process has been conducted with such callousness that one observer close to the situation remarked, "Being civil and humane is regarded as a weakness."

Members of the new administration have been too exhilarated to care. Caught up in an emotional high now that they hold the sword of power, they will wield it in whatever way their leader dictates. It will be used as it has to be.

The choice of servants is of no little importance to a prince, and they are good or not according to the discrimination of a prince. And the first opinion which one forms of a prince, and of his understanding, is by observing the men he has around him ....
- Machiavelli

"If you want to understand these people, always start with the notion that the system is corrupt because people are screwing it up, but one person can make a difference," veteran City Hall administrator Norman Krumholz observes.

That same statement might be used to describe Dennis Kucinich's philosophy of life. The zest with which his followers have adopted it is indeed a wonder to behold. They discuss government in phrases that sound like they have been lifted from an eighth-grade civics textbook. (Their ability to follow up the Egg rhetoric with action is another matter.)

"We want to restore people's hope and faith in government's ability to work, and answer their needs," Tonia Grdina says.

"The bureaucracy can be made to work the way it should - if you're tough enough," says her sister Betty.

"What are [political] friends and enemies if you don't have principles?" Joe Tegreene asks.

The savage attack the crusaders unleashed on what they perceived to be the remnants of a corrupt administration was just one example of their commitment to their beliefs. Most have also demonstrated a strong work capacity: Almost no one works less than ten hours a day; most are uncomfortable behind desks and prefer the first-hand satisfaction of getting work done "out in the field"; and not one declined the invitation to follow snow removal equipment around during the snowstorms in water department cars to make sure the drivers were doing their jobs.

What keeps the fires of idealism burning so brightly in the hearts and minds of this group? "Loyalty and dedication," ex-Carl Stokes bodyguard (now Safety Director) Jim Barrett says. What Barrett - along with other Kucinich minions - fails to mention is that the group's loyalty lies first with their leader, and secondly with city government.

"This isn't some kind of groupie thing around Dennis," Tonia Grdina insists. But at the same time, she describes Kucinich as "the only politican who embodies what I believe in."

What bothers most political observers about that kind of loyalty is that it is coupled with a myopic vision of reality. The Kucinich loyalists seem to divide the world into two parts: "us" and "them." Few, if any, seem to have an appreciation of the complexities and interrelationships that comprise the workings of the real world.

"Either they don't understand that everything is connected to everything else, or don't care," one longtime City Hall bureaucrat notes. Another administration source sees the situation in simpler terms: "People with little minds have little ideas."

When Kucinich decided that the quickest way to fulfill his campaign promise of new sewers was to reallocate Community Development funds, the city's local development corporations (LDCs) - which had been encouraged to dream up ways to spend federal grants under the Perk administration - were told to forget the money promised them. Betty Grdina was given the job of sitting across the table from frustrated LDC officers and telling them, "LDCs are trying to solve major socioeconomic problems in band-aid ways."

One of her most heated battles was with the Ohio City LDC, which had been promised $333,000 by the Perk administration for the construction of a park near the West Side Market. Betty felt that the park would become a haven for winos, and that the diner destroyed to make room for it was worth saving.

"In my best professional judgment, the park is not a good idea," she told Cardinal Federal Savings and Loan Vice President Ed Wagner, an Ohio City LDC official, at one meeting with the group. "The same argument supports the park as supports tax abatement - they're both shakedowns."

This was not the first time Wagner had been given the City Hall stall. "Goddamit, Betty," he said, "I've been going through this for three years."

Betty smiled and, in her soft, almost angelic voice, told him, "Not with me you haven't."

Wagner's frustration was understandable. His bank had - largely at his personal request - put a considerable amount of money into the rebuilding of Ohio City over the last eight years. Betty's "professional judgment" was based on her political science and sociology degree from Case Western Reserve, her work as a chief deputy clerk for two years in the Clerk of Courts office, and her three months' experience in Community Development.

The idea that making enemies out of people like Ed Wagner could be damaging to the city apparently has not occurred to Betty. "The people we are fighting need us," she says when asked about the subject. "The city can perfectly well afford to tell them off. They have to come back."

Fortunately, a more experienced hand - that of Norm Krumholz, a nationally known urban planner who began work at City Hall under Carl Stokes - is at the main controls in Community Development. Even Kucinich's harshest critics point out that people like Krumholz, Law Director Jack Schulman and Utilities Director Lou Corsi (who has been in city government 22 years, eight of those as Cleveland's income tax commissioner) would be excellent additions to any administration.

Kucinich has also dropped other anchors of experience into his sea of zealots: Personnel Director Jeff Fox, Police Chief Richard Hongisto, Consumer Affairs Director Herman Kammerman and Health and Welfare Director David Strand are all products of an urban-government environment.

But if any of the experience and guidance of those cabinet members has rubbed off on the Kucinich "sub-cabinet," it has not shown itself thus far. The loyalists' Superman-like pursuit of what they perceive to be truth and justice - and their apparent belief that they have a monopoly on those commodities - has already earned them such nicknames from city officials and councilmen as "the Red Guard" and "Hitler's youth corps."

A question arises: whether it be better to be loved than feared or feared than loved? It may be answered that one should wish to be both, but, because it is difficult to unite them in one person, it is much safer to be feared than loved ....
- Machiavelli

Interestingly, much of what has been said about the Kucinich faithful applies with special force to the man closest to the mayor - Bob Weissman.

Kucinich first came to Weissman's attention in 1969, when the young candidate for Ward 7 Councilman returned a 12-page typed set of position statements to the Council of the United Auto Workers' Community Action Program in response to the endorsement group's questionnaire. "Dennis' was the only meaningful response we got," Weissman, now 47, recalls. "He knew more about the issues than I did."

Evidently, the admiration was mutual. Kucinich - with some assistance from the UAW - won that election, and he and Weissman have been virtually inseparable ever since. The relationship presents a fascinating study in contrasts: Kucinich, the young, magnetic, flamboyant extrovert; Weissman, the wily, publicity-shy, calculating planner.

But the two share more than is evident on the surface. Weissman had already gained a reputation as a maverick when Kucinich was just beginning to learn the alphabet. In the '50s his vocal protests against the Korean War and Joe McCarthy led to a blackball attempt against his own labor organizing work. Much like his young protege, however, he refused to accept defeat and eventually rose to a position of leadership in the UAW.

Today, Weissman sits in a second-floor City Hall office adjacent to the mayor's, like a great spider sitting at the top of its web, aware of the slightest disturbance along the fine silken lines it has spun across its territory. Because he has taken it upon himself to be the new mayor's hitman, many employees have come to regard him as the mayor. Weissman continues to downplay his role, but admits that many people will attempt to see him rather than Kucinich. "They're satisfied that I am an equivalent. to seeing the mayor," he says.

What interests most political oservers - and worries some Kucinich staff members - is not the question of leadership; Dennis runs the city. But they marvel at the considerable influence that Weissman seems to exert over his boss. Some City Hall employees say the influence is stronger than Kucinich himself realizes.

A graphic illustration of that almost mesmerizing influence was drawn, oddly enough, on the day before Valentine's Day this year, when Kucinich and Weissman had lunch with American Greetings Corporation executives Irving and Morris Stone and members of their staff at the company's West Side offices. Finance Director Joe Tegreene's mother works there, and Tegreene had reminded Kucinich that morning to kindly say hello to her when he toured the plant.

Once on the tour, however, Weissman dissuaded Kucinich from doing that, because, he said, it would be embarrassing for Mrs. Tegreene to be singled out by the mayor of Cleveland.

Later that day Tegreene casually asked Kucinich if he had seen his mother. "No," Kucinich told him. "Bob didn't think if was a good idea."

Tegreene cocked his head at the man for whom he had made so many sacrifices the past seven years. "You're kidding, aren't you?"

Kucinich tried to force a weak smile. "No, really. He thought it would embarrass her."

Tegreene's face clouded. "That pisses me off. You know how sensitive he is!" Tegreene's tone of voice indicated that he does not think there is a sensitive bone in Weissman's body.

Tegreene became so upset that later that day Kucinich had to personally call American Greetings and apologize to Mrs. Tegreene for not stopping to see her during his visit.

As the two people closest to Kucinich, Tegreene and Weissman seem to function as the mayor's alter egos. Tegreene has gained a reputation at City Hall as one of the friendliest members of the new administration, and perhaps the only one with whom most people feel they can have a rational conversation. Weissman has gone out of his way to be abrasive and to demonstrate his ruthlessness. Although Kucinich has so far managed to strike a fairly even balance between the two, it is Weissman's advice he follows almost without question.

For his part, Weissman continues to dismiss the portrayal of himself as a hatchet man as a "simple-minded media oversimplification."

"I would describe my style as aggressive straightforwardness," he says. "If people need to be told something, I tell them. Rather than send someone we don't want a lot of indirect messages - like moving them to a new office or taking away their secretary - I just tell them: 'You don't appear to be compatible with this administration. Now do you want to transfer, resign, or be publicly embarrassed when we emasculate your position?'"

Princes ought to leave affairs of reproach to the management of others, and keep those of grace in their own hands.
- Machiavelli

Perhaps the arrogance with which the new administration touts its populist truths would be more tolerable if Kucinich had placed more experienced people in positions of responsibility and been less obsessed with the deployment of his own troops. "What they lack in expertise, they make up for in willingness to learn," Kucinich says of his staff. "It's the quality of the experience, more than the quantity." While that may be true of auto mechanics or sexual technique, it appears that the Grdina sisters are not the only loyalists who have strayed into the waters of municipal government just a bit over their heads.
--Richard Barton, 24, has a B.A. in Communications from Cleveland State and is presently pursuing an M.B.A there. He is also the program director of the university radio station, WCSB-FM.

Barton grew up in Ralph Perk's old neighborhood, on the city's southeast side. His qualifications for being commissioner of power and light are as follows: active involvement in the petition drive to save Muny Light; attendance at the US American Public Power Association convention in Toronto last year with Kucinich; previous work with the city in the recreation department and clerk of courts office; and "a built-in facility for understanding technical setups."

Barton demonstrated those technical faculties during the Muny Light blackout in December, when he jump-started the emergency City Hall power generator. When the lights went out, Barton did not even know the location of the generator. A janitor helped him find it in the basement, and then watched as Barton hooked up jumper cables from the generator batteries to a battery-powered floor sweeper. In a sudden flash of light, City Hall power was restored, and Barton was transformed from an assistant public properties director to Muny Light commissioner.

--Tonia Grdina hopes to finish her undergraduate work in sociology this year or next at Cleveland State. As executive secretary to the safety director (and almost acting police chief once, until a reporter pointed out that would be illegal), she sat across the table from police and their lawyers during the first contract negotiations ever worked out between the police and the city.

Although she looks even younger than her 21 years, no one at the bargaining table doubted her intelligence, quickness or integrity - it was her inexperience that rankled them. Early in the talks, it was not unusual for one of the police negotiators to lean over to another and whisper, "What are we wasting our time here for?" Serious negotiations never really got underway until Jeff Fox joined the city negotiating team.

The cops already had a bad taste in their mouths about Tonia, who comes from a prominent East Side Slovenian family. She visited the police communications center (at the old Central Station at East 21st Street and Payne Avenue) in early December - when Michael Ahrens was still police chief - and started questioning some dispatchers. One of the men called Ahrens and complained: "There's some little kid over here giving me orders."

Ahrens talked to Tonia, making it clear she was to leave the radio room. Shortly after that, he received a call from San Francisco, where the mayor was attending a National League of Cities convention, and was told that Tonia could go where she damn well pleased.

--Joseph Tegreene, 24, graduated with a political science degree from Kenyon College in 1974 - a year early, so he could help Kucinich in his second unsuccessful bid for a Congressional seat. The two met at Valley Forge High School in 1971 when Joe, the president of his senior class, introduced Kucinich at a school speaking engagement. Tegreene himself ran unsuccessfully for a West Side suburban seat in the state legislature in early 1976.

Since college, Tegreene has held two jobs: He worked nine months as a stockbroker at Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith, then quit to join the Clerk of Courts office under Kucinich. One of his responsibilities as a deputy clerk was transferring the office revenue into bank certificates of deposit (CDs).

When Municipal Court Bailiff Jerry Krakowski succeeded Kucinich in the Clerk of Courts office last November, he had problems determining the status and location of the certificates of deposit. Tegreene had, of course, put the CDs in local banks; but the only records Krakowski could find of the transactions were two file folders in which loose legal pad work sheets, some letters, and passbooks had been stuffed. Krakowski had an even harder time trying to figure out the bookkeeping system used to keep track of the office's auxiliary fund - so much so that he asked for a complete bank explanation of the account before he would touch it. Not that any monies were missing. "The problem was archaic bookkeeping," Krakowski says. "Things should have been done in a little more businesslike fashion."

Tegreene had planned to succeed Kucinich in the Clerk's office. When it became clear that the municipal judges wanted Krakowski instead, Kucinich decided to keep his right-hand man at his side. But giving Tegreene the job of finance director seemed comparable to promoting a bank teller in a neighborhood savings and loan to chairman of the Federal Reserve Board. Understanding the incredible maze that urban finances have become calls for a considerable amount of expertise, probably more than is demanded in any other cabinet position. And given Cleveland's shaky financial status, what would be considered a difficult job for a professional has become a staggering responsibility for Joe Tegreene.

As finance director, one of the budgets that Tegreene had to review for the coming year was the Clerk of Courts. Krakowski had taken Kucinich's old payroll figures and operating expenses, added inflation and cost-of-living increases, deducted $20,000 that he expected to save by removing all the unnecessary phones Kucinich had installed during his tenure as clerk (including the extra candy-apple red one at his desk), and submitted a $2-million budget. Tegreene - who, by law, controls the clerk's budget - rejected that figure, changing it to $1.9 million. In his letter explaining the budget cut, Tegreene told Krakowski: "As I have more experience than you in administering the Clerk of Courts office, I am confident that the office can operate effectively at the level of appropriation I have given you. I am available at any time to instruct you as to how the Clerk's office can be administered so as to keep costs down."

In assembling the city's 1978 general fund budget, Tegreene was assisted by Lou Corsi and the remnants of the previous administrations's finance department. The mayor was pleased when the new team came up with an austere $129-million budget. No one ever asked budget analysts from the previous administration why, even with layoffs and service cutbacks, they thought that inflation and new contract agreements would drive city spending up to $144 million this year. By late February, independent financial analysts in Cleveland were privately projecting that the city would run out of operating money by October. Some predicted a scenario similar to the recent Board of Education crisis, with the city unable to meet its basic payroll commitments.

Because municipal finances are so complex - and because the financial condition of the city never really becomes clear until the third quarter of the year, when income and expenditures can be tallied - few people have challenged the administration's financial posture.

"I'm not even sure they comprehend the real financial situation," one financial planner from the Perk administration says with an agonized look on his face. "This isn't the kind of stuff you pick up by osmosis. You simply can't run a $350-million corporation with bookkeepers."

The most telling indicator of the new administration's inexperience so far has been the winter snowstorms. The crusaders found plenty of heroic acts to perform during the blizzards - rescuing stranded people from cars, transporting families to emergency shelter, driving behind snow plows at 3 a.m. and, best of all, staying up for 24 or 36 hours at a time, catching quick naps on office couches or Red Cross cots.

Despite their valiant efforts, the snow removal program on Cleveland streets was one of the all-time worst. And the principal reason for that was simple: It was incredibly disorganized. Snow plows were being sent to areas in response to phone call complaints, rather than according to a zone plan. Laborers at the city yards found themselves besieged not only by supervisors, but also by councilmen with one set of instructions and Kucinich zealots with another.

Former Service Director Robert Beasley offers an obvious explanation for the chaos during the snowstorms. "They had no leadership," he says. "When the snow came, they panicked. The trick to plowing streets is not less snow or more equipment, but knowing how to put the equipment that you have at the place you need it at the time you need it. Without experience, it can't be done."

As a Perk appointee, Beasley has an obvious bias. But Beasley was planning this winter's snow removal program last July, and after Perk was defeated in the October primary, he hoped to meet with the new administration to expla

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