Kucinich: Diminutive lion of the left
On the eve of another grim anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, members of Congress voted on a symbolic resolution to establish an official remembrance, expression of sympathy and honoring of heroes.

It was the kind of measure on which, surely, everyone could agree.

Everyone, that is, except Rep. Dennis Kucinich, elected and sent to Capitol Hill in 1996 to represent a district that includes Cleveland, the city where he was dubbed the boy mayor at age 31.

In explaining why his was the lone dissenting vote, Kucinich said Congress needs to "wake up to the truth and exercise its obligation under the Constitution to save our nation from being destroyed from the lies that led us into Iraq, the lies that keep us there, the lies that are being used to set the stage for war against Iran and the lies that have undermined our basic civil liberties at home."

For Kucinich, self-doubt isn't a problem, and half-measures won't do. His position on the war? Complete withdrawal, now. Health insurance? Everybody should have it, now. International trade agreements? Abandon them, now.

Back for a second, quixotic attempt to win the Democratic nomination for president, Kucinich is in perfect form as the perfect foil to a slate of politically pragmatic candidates. His is a world of essential, immutable, not-up-for-compromise truths. Look no further than the slogan that marked his political comeback 13 years ago in a race for the Ohio legislature, following a disastrous term as the mayor of Cleveland: "Because he was right."

He carries that air of authority with him like a badge of honor: the one person in the race for the White House who will not bend. A Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll in September showed him polling in the low single digits in the first three major nominating states. It is a wonderful position to be in, having so little chance to win that you can really hew to a standard of purity and perfection.

You see it with him everywhere he goes, whether campaigning before Hollywood types in California, where he has many friends and supporters, or onstage for the numerous debates with his fellow Democratic presidential candidates. There is a glint in his eyes, conviction in his voice and a finger-wagging rejoinder to those who won't believe in his world of absolutes.

Kucinich has made a life and career of overcoming obstacles, challenging expectations and making unpopular decisions simply by trusting his gut. His second run for president is no different.

Fundraising figures from this summer show Kucinich trailing other candidates, who have raised many times his total. He had raised slightly more than $1 million -- a far cry from, for example, Sen. Hillary Clinton's $63 million.

Kucinich is now in the sleek, 8th-floor conference room at the Creative Artists Agency in California. It is an easy crowd for him. They want a pure message, and he gives it to them.

"I come from a core belief that's unshakable, to get right to the truth, focus on it and stand by it," said the youthful-looking 61-year-old. "I put my career on the line back in Cleveland, because I knew what to do in the moment."

Grew up poor

Dennis John Kucinich was born in Cleveland in 1946, the oldest of seven children. He grew up poor and by age 17 had moved 21 times. At one point, his family slept in a car parked near steel mills that illuminated the night.

"Throughout my life that has always been a symbol of hope, this light against the dark sky," Kucinich said.

After high school, Kucinich became a newspaper copy boy at The Cleveland Plain Dealer. He attended Cleveland State University and got a bachelor's and master's degree from Case Western Reserve University.

Kucinich first married in 1970, divorcing six years later. He married a second time in 1977, divorcing in 1986. He has one daughter from his second marriage, Jacqueline, 25.

At age 23, Kucinich won a City Council seat. He aimed higher and at 31 became the youngest mayor of any major American city. At the time, his two-year term seemed to be both his peak and his valley.

While mayor, Kucinich refused to sell the municipal light system after banks threatened to call in their loans. He saved the public utility, but banks threw the City of Cleveland into default. He lost his 1979 bid for a second term, and the stigma of the financial default extinguished his political career. Or so it seemed.