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Home   /   Polka   /   Sherrill
Note: Sherrill's Bakery closed in August of 2000

It’s Dennis’ New Place

By James F. McCarty
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Sunday, October 24, 1999
Section G, page 1

WASHINGTON    The screen door swings open and slams shut, announcing the arrival of another customer. The wooden floorboards squeak underfoot as he approaches his regular booth and slides on to the Naugahyde seat.

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich doesn’t have to say a word. A matronly waitress wiping tabletops recognizes him and immediately places his breakfast order. She knows it by heart: two slices of plain wheat toast, a bowl of oatmeal and a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon on the side. Three bucks covers it.

Kucinich, a reformed steak-and-eggs man, contemplates the ascetic meal for a moment. Now a strict vegetarian, he shows no sign of being tempted by the savory smells of bacon, French toast and scrapple sizzling on a grill behind the counter.

Kucinich methodically begins picking the crust off the toast and eating it.

In an hour, the side walks of Capitol Hill will be bustling with pinstriped government troops off to meetings, caucuses and power breakfasts. But at 7:30 on this gorgeous fall morning - indeed, on most mornings while Congress is in session - Kucinich can be found in the solitude of this dusty diner on Pennsylvania Ave. with dingy windows and neon lights no one has bothered to turn on.

The cold glass tubes spell out "Sherrill’s Restaurant and Bakery" - a Capitol Hill landmark. On weekends, the line of customers stretches out the door. On this day and at this hour, Kucinich has to whisper lest the handful of other early risers eavesdrop.

As if on cue, a retired gentleman approaches the congressman. He addresses Kucinich by name and hands over a manila folder containing several pages of handwritten thoughts on world and national events. Kucinich promises to read them.

"That happens to me all the time," he says.

Kucinich finishes the toast, then gathers the crumbs into a tiny pile. He eats them, too.

From a satchel, he pulls a folder containing an engraved invitation. He turns it over and draws three circles, the symbols of his political world. One circle represents his Capitol Hill office and dozen-member staff. The second circle represents his district offices in Lakewood and Parma. The third represents what sets Kucinich apart from most of his colleagues in Congress.

"I’ve been doing this for 32 years. I know what I’m doing."

Such matter-of-fact confidence would have sounded laughable 20 years ago. Modern perceptions of Kucinich may have changed, but few who were around then will ever forget the sudden rise and equally sudden fall of Cleveland’s "boy mayor."


Kucinich beginning the day in a new booth on Capitol Hill

He was elected at age 31, survived a recall election at 32 and got voted out of office after one term, practically disappearing from the public eye for more than a decade.

He was a maverick whom the late Cleveland Press columnist Don Robertson once described as a "brutal, vain, yappy little demagogue" and "an obnoxious little twerp" who "lacks class." And Robertson was one of Kucinich’s most ardent supporters in the media.

The "little twerp" bears small resemblance to the second-term congressman, who is respected and, for a member of the minority party, increasingly influential.

Rep. Ralph M. Hall of Texas approaches and nods amiably at Kucinich.

"Good morning, Mayor," says the lanky Democrat in a sonorous drawl.

Kucinich doesn’t wince at the title. That’s ancient history.

For proof, just look on the wall behind Sherrill’s checkout counter. Hanging beside an Emmy award, donated by the producers of a PBS documentary about the diner, is a photograph of a smiling Kucinich. His is the only mug in the room favored by generations of powerful politicians.

Kucinich pulls a bag of green tea from his jacket pocket and dips it three or four times into the hot water, imperceptibly changing its color. He squeezes the water out of the bag and slips it back into his pocket.

Kucinich’s morning routine recalls a time when the mayor began most every day with a pit stop at another greasy spoon that served up equal portions of scrambled eggs and proletarian ambiance. Tony’s Diner, a now gone short-order stop at W. 117th St. and Lorain Ave., was Kucinich’s favorite breakfast joint - and branch office - during his two years in City Hall.

The brusque waitresses at Sherrill’s bring back memories of the Grdina sisters, whose peppery demeanors personified the Kucinich administration for some critics.

A couple of quick spoonfuls and the oatmeal is gone. Kucinich is up and out the door, headed across the Capitol grounds for a meeting in one of the marble edifices that crown the Hill.

Along the way, feet crunching magnolia leaves on the sidewalk, he begins a proud recital of his accomplishments during three years in Congress: A successful bipartisan crusade to block increased train traffic through the West Shore; the deal to install safety gates and flashers at rail crossings in Cleveland and Lakewood...

Suddenly he stops, bends over and picks up an empty baby food jar. He throws it into a trash bin and moves on, without having missed a beat.

... efforts to establish a quiet zone along the tracks through the West Side; taking part in a congressional delegation that met with Russian legislators to discuss peace in Kosovo...

It’s a long way from Tony’s yet in some ways not so far at all.


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