With no fanfare, the official mayoral portrait of Dennis Kucinich at last assumed a place of honor at Cleveland City Hall last week, 44 years after he left office.
Mayor for two turbulent years until he lost reelection to George Voinovich in 1979, Kucinich had long endured the indignity of being Cleveland’s only head honcho in recent memory without a painting on display.
Supporters held a kielbasa-and-pierogi fundraiser to pay for a portrait in 2002, during the Jane Campbell era. Years later, the painting by artist Matthew Hunt ended up in safekeeping with the North Shore AFL-CIO until Ryan Puente, a top aide to Mayor Justin Bibb, brought it to City Hall last year.
Now, Kucinich’s portrait hangs in a hallway just off of the City Hall rotunda. Wearing the long collar and wide lapels of the 1970s, the boy mayor gazes off to his right with a barely perceptible smile.
The city has long kept its portrait collection of mayors and other prominent Clevelanders in the mayor’s second-floor offices, away from public view. Last Wednesday, Bibb’s office moved more than a dozen of them downstairs to the rotunda, where anyone can take a look.
Many depict bearded and mustachioed civic leaders of yore whose names might not ring a bell even with big-time Cleveland history buffs. Ever heard of Richard C. Parsons, newspaper editor turned Republican congressman? How about Joseph Weatherly, identified on his nameplate as the first president of the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce?
But there are some more recognizable figures besides Kucinich on the walls.
City Club of Cleveland co-founder Newton D. Baker, mayor from 1912 through 1915 who went on to start the law firm Baker Hostetler, greets visitors by the east elevators. Ralph Locher, mayor during the Hough riots of 1966 who lost his seat to Carl Stokes, occupies the space next to the fire extinguisher.
Bibb did not disturb the large and brightly colored portrait of his predecessor, Frank Jackson. Cleveland’s longest serving mayor is pictured standing in front of a youth football practice at Dwayne Browder Field in his own Central neighborhood.
That painting, like Jackson’s 16 years as mayor, still looms over the occupants of the Red Room.