By Jason Claffey
Monday, December 24, 2007
DURHAM — As she ascended the stairs leading to the second floor of the Memorial Union Building at the University of New Hampshire, hands jammed in her olive-colored trench coat, long red hair falling over her shoulders, Elizabeth Kucinich and her entourage of campaign officials strode past dozens of students on their way to class or lunch.
Some students, who were either on their cell phone or lugging a bunch of books under their arm, turned their heads for a passing glance; others simply stared, as if to ask themselves, “Who’s that?”
She is the wife of Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, and with her movie-star looks suggesting a taller Nicole Kidman, she would seem to make an appealing substitute for her husband simply because she can make people stop and stare.
But her educational resume — degrees in religious studies and international conflict analysis from the University of Kent in England, certificates in peace and reconciliation, experience with the American Monetary Institute — make her more than a jewel piece in Kucinich’s campaign, because she can talk the issues as well as her husband, as she proved Tuesday night during an hour-long discussion with about 20 students at a table in the Union Court lunch room.
Kucinich was supposed to speak about children’s issues at UNH but the Ohio Congressman had to stay in Washington for a war vote, so Elizabeth filled in.
Speaking in soft, measured tones as curious students gathered around, she spoke about her husband’s proposed policies — including cutting the Pentagon budget, starting government-funded environmental engineering programs, overturning the North American Free Trade Agreement and starting universal pre-kindergarten and college.
Those measured tones turned to visible anger when discussing the perception that Kucinich is an “unelectable” candidate.
“I get very frustrated on the presidential campaign when I hear people say to me, ‘You know, your husband, he’s perfect on the war, he’s perfect on the environment, he’s perfect on trade, he’s perfect on health care, he’s very strong, he’s always right on the issues, we love him, but … he’s unelectable.'”
“Well, he’s been elected for 40 years,” she said, referring Kucinich’s resume, which includes stints as Cleveland state senator, mayor and city councilor, and terms as a U.S. Congressman.
She said people shouldn’t vote based on what a candidates’ chances of getting elected are, they should vote for who they think is the best candidate.
“You here in New Hampshire have the most powerful opportunity to show the rest of the country exactly where your courage is,” she said. “When you understand what it would take to end all these unnecessary wars, to change the level of thinking in Washington, and to bring about economic and environmental sustainability, then you vote for it, you vote for your own self-interest.”
She described her husband’s “Strength through Peace” campaign slogan — a play on the conservative “Peace through Strength” phrase. Kucinich has said he will create a Department of Peace to help negotiate peace agreements around the world.
She said Kucinich would cut the Pentagon budget by 15 percent on what she called unnecessary weapons programs — “fat” — and pour the money into educational programs, like universal pre-kindergarten and college.
Another of Kucinich’s proposals is the Works Green Administration, modeled after Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Works Project Administration. The WGA would be a large-scale, government-funded engineering program that would make the country’s infrastructure, like roads and bridges, more environmentally friendly. It would help retrofit homes with solar panels and wind power devices.
“The technologies are there to do that,” Elizabeth said.
On NAFTA, she said it has contributed to illegal immigrants entering the United States because it’s created “economic refugees.”
“When NAFTA was passed in the mid-90s, we were told that it would mean economic activity and increased production, jobs, benefits, etc.,” she said.
“(But) it opened the door for industries to leave and go to countries where they don’t uphold workers’ rights, they don’t uphold environmental policies, they don’t uphold human rights … it goes down to the corruption within those trade agreements.
“We need to cancel NAFTA, withdraw from the (World Trade Organization), and have trade that is based on workers rights, human rights and environmental quality controls,” she said.
Speaking to students about how she met Dennis, Elizabeth said she was working for the American Monetary Institute and saw him at a conference in 2005. It was instant love. She said the second time she saw him she knew she wanted to marry him.
“I hadn’t even Googled him yet,” she said.
Elizabeth, 30, who was born in England, worked her way through college as a nursing assistant, and has no loan debt.
“I didn’t drink. I hardly socialized,” she said.
One of the reasons she came to the U.S. was the experience of taking the final exam for her master’s degree in international conflict analysis. It happened on Sept. 11, 2001. Her class went ahead with the exam — one of the essays she wrote about was on terrorism. She ended up getting a “first,” the equivalent of an “A.”
Freshman Andrew Middleton, who sat in a chair right next to Elizabeth’s side for the discussion, said he was a little disappointed that the Ohio Congressman couldn’t make it to UNH.
“But this is a marvelous substitute,” he said. “I am just as enamored with her speech as I am with Dennis’ (speeches).”
Evan Shuman, a senior, asked Elizabeth questions about environmental programs, and received a compliment that certainly made his day. While shaking hands with Elizabeth after the sit-down, she told him he had “beautiful eyes.”
“All the other candidates are too big to take a moment out (like that),” Shuman said.
After the lunch room discussion, it was off to UNH’s Diamond Library museum, where Elizabeth was to view a political exhibit. She strode down an icy sidewalk on Main Street, head and shoulders above her campaign staff, students and media. She stopped to shake hands with a woman walking the other way, then made her way to the museum’s front entrance, where she would probably turn some more heads, and, she hopes, change some minds.
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