Who Is Dennis Kucinich?

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who is vying for the Democratic presidential nomination, has defied the odds more than once in his political career.

In an interview with ABCNEWS' Peter Jennings, Kucinich speaks of his political premonition when he was young, and how being small helped him shape his leadership skills.

Kucinich was born in Cleveland. His father was a truck driver.

"My family had a lot of ups and downs. I was the oldest of seven, and my parents never owned a home," said Kucinich. "As my family kept expanding, we kept just moving from apartment to apartment … [but] the apartments weren't big enough to accommodate our family."

By the time Kucinich was 17 years old, his family had lived in 21 different places, including a couple of cars.

Kucinich said his parents worked hard at keeping the family together, but when he was 12, the family faced a serious crisis.

"After my mother had her fifth child, not the seventh, she experienced what today would be called postpartum depression," said Kucinich. "It was very hard for her. And she was sick for a long time."

Kucinich said his father tried to find some way to keep the family together, even though at one point, some of the children were staying in a children's home and others were with relatives.

"We didn't know if we'd get to see our parents again," he said. "We didn't know if we'd see each other again. It was hard."

Hard Work Paid Off

Even though Kucinich was always physically small, he found how to work it to his advantage and work even harder to overcome obstacles.

"Some of the benefits were, you know, you get to lead the procession in church, you know, if you're the smallest … Maybe that's how leaders are chosen," he laughed.

Growing up, he said he always had to work a little harder than other kids. He worked as a janitor, a golf caddy, a hospital orderly and a copy boy at the Plain Dealer newspaper in Cleveland.

"I worked two full-time jobs for the better part of two years to save up the money to go to college. And I enrolled at Cleveland State University," said Kucinich, the first person in his family to graduate from college. "And then still worked a full-time job."

As a result, Kucinich said he understands the importance of education. "But it was so important, it was like a dream that I had to go to college," he said. "So I saved up money and finally was able to go."

In 1969, when Kucinich was only 23 years old, he was elected to the Cleveland City Council. He said he had a desire to go into public service at an early age, after watching President John F. Kennedy swearing being sworn in as president of the United States.

"I may have been 16 years old, and I actually had an intuition that I was going to be mayor of Cleveland," he said.

Kucinich did just that. He was elected mayor of Cleveland when he was 31 years old — becoming the youngest mayor of a major American city at that time.

Political Comeback

The city was in disastrous financial shape — and it got worse. The city went into default. Kucinich was blamed and he was defeated in a bid for re-election.

"It took years later for people to realize I did the right thing," he said. "I did the right thing in refusing to sell the city's municipal-owned electric system because 15 years after that, the city of Cleveland announced the largest expansion of any electric system in America. And at that moment people said, 'Well, this couldn't have happened if Dennis' — that's what they called me in Cleveland — 'if Dennis hadn't refused to sell.' "

At that time, things started to change for Kucinich. "Suddenly, I started to come back, because people asked me to come back," he said. "And so I came back and I was elected to the state Senate. And two years later, I was elected to Congress."

Kucinich admits that politics puts a strain on relationships. He has been married and divorced twice. A New Hampshire Web site once held a contest to find him a date.

"It just isn't easy," he said, adding that he still has hope for the future, but "that's one area I'm not going to be trying to give anyone any lessons in."

Kucinich has many friends in Hollywood and a great love of the arts, which he describes as magical.

"The ability to create these alternative universes in words and in pictures and in dance, it's amazing," he said. "It's just amazing. And to me that's always fed me. That's fed me from the time I was a child. You know that, that fed me when we were living in a car. That fed me when everything else seemed desolate."

And why is he running for president?

"When you're the oldest of seven, you know, you kind of achieve like a leadership of an extended family," he answered. "In a way I look at this as an American family, and, and I have been in a leadership position as a member of Congress. And now I want to provide more, you know, leadership on another level."