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Dem Implosion: Kucinich, Congressional Black Caucus Fight for Committee Slot

In a move which presages a brawl between three top Democrats, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) has let it be known he wants the ranking member slot of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

According to Roll Call, Kucinich announced Wednesday he would run for the position against current Committee Chair Edolphus Towns (D-NY). Towns is widely seen as less than effective against Darrell Issa, the current ranking member and presumptive chairman, (R-CA) and Democrats worry he will not be able to contain the aggressive Issa after the turnover of power in January.

As PJM reported earlier this week, Kucinich signaled his interest in the position by firing a sharply worded letter to Issa demanding a retraction of Issa’s characterization of the $787 billion stimulus as “walking-around money.”

This challenge pits Kucinich against the powerful Congressional Black Caucus as well as other more senior members of the committee. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has seniority over Kucinich. According to sources close to the committee, she had let it be known she would like the ranking member slot as well. She has since backed Towns. Towns is a member of the CBC and is backed by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), who was also mentioned as a candidate for the spot. Cummings has publicly backed Towns, but has also said if Towns were to back out he would challenge for the spot.

This faction fight puts Kucinich, a bare-knuckles brawler if there ever was one, in the position of trying to shoulder aside three more senior representatives in his quest for power.

The two-time presidential candidate has taken the gloves off against Issa, stating in a letter declaring his candidacy for the seat:

Mr. Issa, through his eagerness to make unsubstantiated charges and to draw conclusions in advance of evidence, reveals a lack of restraint and basic fairness. This conduct in the Chairman of the Committee will degrade Congress’ oversight credibility and undermine the institution of the House through a lack of restraint in the use of subpoena power.

He also laid out in the letter what he would do were he to assume the No. 2 position on the committee:

1. Zero tolerance for smears and innuendo. Every single statement by Chairman Issa which is lacking in respect for the process of oversight, every unsubstantiated allegation or any publicly pronounced assumption which lacks basic fairness will be promptly challenged.

2. I will encourage a team approach on the Committee which will tap the talents of all members to actively participate in responding to any abuse of process.

3. All members will receive weekly updates of oversight activities to be able to provide input.

4. Cooperation with Chairman Issa when, and only when, he proceeds in an even-handed manner which demonstrates basic fairness and respect for due process.

This is particularly interesting coming from Kucinich.

According to a September 10 article on the Huffington Post, Kucinich has serious personnel issues within his own subcommittee. Indeed, one African American staffer, Jean Gosa — who has been a Hill staffer for 35 years — has complained of racial tensions within the office. She has been feuding with Jaron Bourke — Kucinich’s Domestic Policy Subcommittee staff director who has been described as Kucinich’s “right-hand man.” Gosa’s allegations, according to the HuffPo story, were backed up by former fellow staffer Noura Erakat. (Erakat currently blogs at HuffPo.) Gosa has complained repeatedly about the atmosphere within the office — using words like “plantation, slave and overseer.”

At the same time, according to that story, Gosa inadvertently admitted to suggesting falsifying the dates on material submitted to the subcommittee which was to be added to the congressional record:

While making her accusations in the memo, Gosa admitted, perhaps accidentally, that she proposed doctoring testimony submitted as part of the congressional record. According to Gosa’s recollection as laid out in the memo she sent to Towns on June 17, 2010, Towns had allowed material to be submitted for the record within five days of a particular hearing. When materials came in beyond that timeframe, Gosa suggested changing the dates to allow it to be submitted, she wrote.

“Jaron made a false claim that I wouldn’t insert appropriate materials into the hearing record,” she wrote in the memo. “The incident that he is referring to was when the Chairman stated that there was 5 days to submit additional testimony after a hearing. Materials would come in months later with the wrong dates and I explained to Jaron that they would have to change the date closer in the range of the 5 days that the Chairman allotted not several months later.” There is no evidence that Bourke allowed her to change the dates.

Sources speaking on condition of anonymity said there was no way Kucinich could be unaware of the tension within his office, and indeed, the problems “significantly impacted the subcommittee’s work in an adverse manner.”

It is no wonder Democrats are privately worried about Kucinich gaining the seat. According to a piece by Janie Lorber of the New York Times on Wednesday:

A senior aide to the committee said that Mr. Kucinich would be a “wild card” and that he was seeking the post only for political gain.

Democrats are also probably somewhat privately concerned that Kucinich is something of a loose cannon — he’s often been at odds with his own party. He’s also somewhat … loopy: witness his years-long battle to create a “Department of Peace.”

In the end his challenge may be somewhat quixotic, but it is another example of the infighting taking place as the Democratic Party tries to make sense of its electoral slaughter earlier this month.