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
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
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.
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
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.
to me all the time," he says.
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."
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."
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.
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.
Mayor," says the lanky Democrat in a sonorous drawl.
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
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.
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.
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
It’s a long way from Tony’s yet in some ways not so far at all.