The Essex girl with a silver tongue stud who has her eyes on the White House


Last updated at 20:30 24 November 2007

On Elizabeth Harper's first day at primary

school in the sleepy, picture-postcard village

of North Ockendon, bemused staff watched

two queues of children forming.

One led to the teacher, the other to a very self-assured

four-year-old girl with flaming red hair

who was helping her new classmates

with buttons, ties and shoelaces.

Fast-forward 26 years and that girl has grown into

a 6ft-tall beauty with the same magnetic personality

– but now it is captivating the American media.

It is not difficult to understand why: she is the wife

of a Democrat politician bidding to become his party's

presidential candidate, and America faces the prospect

– albeit an unlikely one – of an Essex girl as First Lady.

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Pundits say her husband Dennis Kucinich has

virtually no chance of winning the Democratic

nomination, but that hasn't dampened the growing

fascination with 30-year-old Elizabeth.

After all, how many politicians' partners can boast

a silver tongue stud as well as stunning

looks and a sharp mind?

Mr Kucinich is a 5ft 7in-tall, twicedivorced

61-year-old congressman from

Cleveland, Ohio – and has been down this

long road before, coming fourth in 2004's

Democratic primaries, with just 3.8 per

cent of votes.

But this time, rather than being known

as the short guy with the squeaky voice

and the liberal policies, he's being noted

as "the one with the hot young wife".

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Mr Kucinich, a former Mayor of Cleveland,

and his glamorous partner are

whistle-stopping their way across Middle

America, staking his claim as the

only candidate to oppose the 2003 Iraq

invasion and calling for non-profit,

universal health care for Americans.

It is all a long way from Elizabeth's

very English upbringing in her tiny

Essex village, where she grew up in an

idyllic family home called Maytree


Her mother Julia Massey, 58,

recalls a girl who always had "a very old

head on young shoulders" and she is not

at all surprised to see her daughter where

she is now.

"I have always thought she was going

to make a difference," said Mrs Massey,

who is an alternative therapist.


"She was always into human rights and

the environment and delivered a petition

on animal rights to Parliament when she

was just 14.

"I remember taking her

around supermarkets when she was

young, and if an item had too much

packaging on it she wouldn't let me buy

it. That was years before that became a

mainstream issue."

Elizabeth excelled at school – the

Coopers' Company and Coborn Comprehensive

– and, after leaving, spent

several months in India at one of Mother

Teresa's children's homes.

Back home, she made frequent trips to

Westminster to lobby for various environmental

and animal-rights causes and

she earned a master's degree in international

conflict resolution from the

University of Kent.

She also worked as a

volunteer in Tanzania on education and

HIV-prevention programmes.

Then in May 2005, while Elizabeth was

working for a Chicago-based organisation

called the American Monetary Institute –

which pushes for reform of the world

financial system – she met Mr Kucinich.

They began to correspond by email

and, incredibly, within a few days decided

to marry. Three months after meeting,

they were man and wife.

Her divorced parents took a little

persuading that she was making the

right decision after such a whirlwind


When her father Graham asked her

how old her fiance was, she

replied, "A bit older than you."

Her mother was dubious but has

come to enjoy Mr Kucinich's

company and outlook.

She said: "When I looked on

his website, his policies were

very sensible ones with which

I found myself agreeing.

"The age difference doesn't

worry me – you've got to live

for today.

"He's become one of us and

always wins our Christmas

family quizzes."

One of Elizabeth's former

classmates was not surprised

at the way things have turned

out. She said: "I hadn't heard

anything about her for years,

until my best friend told me

she was marrying a Congressman.

"It was the perfect match

for a girl who always seemed

to be heading to the top."

However, Mr Kucinich is

hardly "at the top". His official

spokeswoman said he "doesn't

have a bean". He owns a very

modest house in Cleveland

worth £40,000, as well as a

pied-a-terre in Washington.

He hit the headlines at the

age of 31 as the youngest mayor

in America, when he took over

Cleveland in 1977. He held the

post for two years, but disappeared

from public gaze for

nearly 20 years until his election

to Congress in 1996.

Mr Kucinich may not have

much of a shot at the White

House, but that hasn't quelled

America's burgeoning love

affair with his wife.

As prime-time US comedian

Bill Maher put it: "New Rule:

Even if Dennis Kucinich doesn't

get to be president, his wife still

gets to be First Lady."

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