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Kucinich Rolls Through L.A. Area

Times Staff Writer

Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, fresh from an unexpectedly strong second-place finish in Hawaii’s caucuses, campaigned through the Los Angeles area Saturday, hoping to win some votes in California’s primary Tuesday.

The Ohio congressman brought his message to a South Central community garden, an immigrant rights rally and a local mosque as he addressed issues of particular importance in California -- such as immigration and the effect of the North American Free Trade Agreement on U.S. and Mexican workers.

Shrugging off the inattention of the national media, Kucinich -- who said he was aiming to meet “a cross-section of the community” -- was welcomed by supporters who embraced his message of peace and human rights.

Starting the day with a breakfast at the United Autoworkers Local 250 in Gardena, Kucinich’s remarks on his own blue-collar upbringing brought the crowd of about 250 to their feet. Some of his most ardent supporters, however, heard the Democrat’s ideas in a more intimate setting, like the 30-person fundraising brunch at a Long Beach home.

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There Kucinich told the progressive faithful that his candidacy would “provide the people of California with a real choice in this election -- not a choice between the Republican version of the war in Iraq and a Democratic version of the war in Iraq,” highlighting one of his signature issues.

Speaking softly from his perch on a living room stool, Kucinich explained his ideas on Iraq -- immediately withdraw U.S. troops -- and on instituting a universal single-payer healthcare system and replacing NAFTA with bilateral trade partnerships in an effort to bring jobs back to Americans.

“I’m presenting to the American people a vision of what can be,” Kucinich said during his 20-minute speech to an audience who, after eating some scrambled eggs and fruit, nodded their heads along with his talking points and intermittently broke into applause.

“He just talks to my heart,” said Delia Hardy, 36, a library employee and Cal State Fullerton student from Huntington Beach. “I’m so sad and disgusted by the way our country is going.”

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Hardy and her husband, Robert, who donated $200 to Kucinich’s campaign Saturday, aren’t discouraged at the national delegate tally -- Kucinich has 9 of the 2,162 Democratic delegates needed to win the party’s nomination.

“At least people are opening their eyes.... It’s encouraging that he’s getting his voice out there,” Delia Hardy said.

Powered by vegan snacks scarfed down in the campaign minivan, Kucinich spoke next at a community garden in South Central.

South Central Farmers Feeding Families is 14 acres of chain-link-bordered communal plots of fruits and vegetables farmed by more than 300 families, many of whom are low-income Latinos.

The plots are in danger of being replaced by soccer fields and commercial warehouses.

“I think what you have done here is an example of what should be done in cities all over the United States,” Kucinich told a mostly Latino crowd of about 65, many of whom leaned on rakes and hoes.

“Cities should allow people to feed their families, not take food out of the mouths of people’s families,” he said, sprinkling his remarks with Spanish phrases as Rufina Juarez, a garden organizer, translated the rest of his words into Spanish.

Gardeners then presented Kucinich and “Babe” actor James Cromwell, who joined him onstage, with large baskets of freshly grown produce, including cabbage and sweet potatoes.

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Kucinich has made a point of appealing to minority voters. The campaign, with a war chest of about $10 million, has spent $30,000 on Spanish radio ads in the state.

And on Saturday he reinforced his message with a brief stop at an immigrant rights rally in front of City Hall and a cameo at the Masjid Omar ibn Al-Khattab mosque in downtown Los Angeles.

But the large crowd of more than 500 sign-waving protesters demonstrating for amnesty, drivers’ licenses and equal rights for immigrants had mostly dispersed by the time Kucinich took the microphone on the building’s steps.

“It’s time we stop treating migrant workers and immigrants as second-class citizens,” Kucinich said in an impassioned address in half English and half Spanish to a small knot of supporters.

“I like the promises that he’s making, because he’s going to support the hard workers,” said demonstrator Monica Mejia, who lives downtown.

Running late to the mosque, he answered questions on Iraq, education and inequalities in the prison system from a mixed crowd of about 65 Muslims and non-Muslims, some of whom had attended multiple Kucinich events Saturday.

“I really want his message to get out to the Muslim-American community,” said Nausheen Hassan, 27, of Arcadia, who helped organize Kucinich’s visit to the mosque.

“People who are driven by faith, they will find that his message will really resonate with them.... Once Muslims find out about him, they’ll be so pleased to see a candidate that actually agrees with their views.”

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The candidate wrapped up his Southland campaigning with a Beverly Hills fundraiser featuring Sean Penn and other actors. The event was expected to bring in $40,000, a campaign spokesperson said.


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