Artist Matthew Hunt’s portrait (pictured above in 2014) shows a black-haired Kucinich at age 31, his hands clasped, his squint telegraphing deep thought. Forty years after his term as Cleveland mayor, Kucinich’s official City Hall portrait is ready for unveiling at last.
“I’d like it to be as big a deal as possible after all these years,” says Harriet Applegate, executive secretary of the North Shore AFL-CIO, who has gotten the 16-year-old portrait project out of limbo.
Applegate, Kucinich and Mayor Frank Jackson have yet to set a date for the portrait’s unveiling. But Applegate wants it to happen in late May or early June, after Kucinich competes in the May 8 Democratic primary for governor.
“It will right a wrong,” Applegate says.
Kucinich is Cleveland’s only modern mayor without a portrait in City Hall. He battled corporate power during his two-year term, 1977 to 1979. So business leaders, who traditionally fund portraits of departing Cleveland mayors, snubbed him. Instead, in 2002, Kucinich supporters held a $20 kielbasa and pierogi lunch in Tremont and raised $12,000 to pay a portrait artist.
Then the project stalled. Kucinich didn’t sit for a study until 2006. Hunt, slowed by health and business setbacks, finished the painting in 2014. His final commission sat unpaid until Applegate got it released from a long-dormant fund this past fall.
“Dennis, for some period of time, didn’t want to do anything with it,” Applegate says of the portrait project -- perhaps out of modesty, she adds. “No one was driving the train.”
Now, Kucinich says he’s talked to Jackson and Applegate about getting the portrait up at City Hall. Although he’s shown reluctance about the project in the past – “it’d be unseemly for me to be promoting it,” he told me this week -- he intends to be there for the unveiling.
“Certainly I would participate,” Kucinich says. “I’m very grateful to the people of Cleveland, who have been determined to see my term recognized.”
Decades late and paid for one $20 ticket at a time, the unveiling will remind Cleveland of the enmity and fervor Kucinich inspired as mayor. “He’s always stood up for the little guy,” says Applegate. “Clevelanders identify with that and appreciate that.”