Pioneering Ohio Congresswoman Leaves Significant Legacy

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Following the sudden death of Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones of Ohio, Sam Fulwood, of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, describes the five-term congresswoman's legislative record and political legacy.

LYNN NEARY, host:

We continue our remembrance of Ohio Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, who died yesterday after suffering a brain aneurysm. She was 58. And here to talk more about her life and what she meant and what her work meant to her constituents, Sam Fulwood is a reporter at the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Sam, welcome to the program. Thanks for being with us.

Mr. SAM FULWOOD (Reporter, Plain Dealer): Good to be with you, Lynn.

NEARY: How was Stephanie Tubbs Jones regarded by the people in her own district?

Mr. FULWOOD: I think you just heard Congress Stokes say that Stephanie, and everybody called her Stephanie, I mean, that was just how she was known, it was like, you know, she was a child of the community, and people loved her. She drew crowds wherever she went. People were attracted to her. People wanted to talk to her. And she was probably by far the most popular politician in northeast Ohio.

NEARY: Now, as we just heard, in her last years in Congress with Democrats in the majority, she had really begun to achieve a position of leadership. And we have some tape of her discussing that on NPR's News & Notes. Let's listen to that tape now.

Representative TUBBS JONES (Democrat, Ohio): I promise - it is a significant opportunity. This is historical. We have five African-American chairs of committees in the Congress. We have the second African-American in the history of the country to be the majority whip. When you're at the table, your issues are discussed. If you're not there, they're not.

NEARY: Now, obviously she was very proud of that leadership. It really did mean a lot to her. But how effective was she in Congress? I mean, Republicans criticized her for being too partisan. Was she able to work across the aisle?

Mr. FULWOOD: Well, you have to admit it. It was a complex picture to sort of look at her or to assess her effectiveness. In terms of being able to push legislation from beginning to the end and having it signed by the president, I don't think she would have rated out very high on that. But part of the reason for that was most of the time that she was in Congress, she was either in the minority in the House, or she was dealing with Republican administrations, which did not look very kindly on the issues that she was pushing, those issues having to do with urban communities, with poor people, and particularly with African-American constituents. So she wasn't able to sort of drive legislation the way that we sort of measure Congress people.

She was extremely effective in being able to spotlight the issues and concerns of her constituents, and to make a lot of noise and to bring heat on those issues so that - sort of more of playing defense rather than offense. She was able to stop things from happening or attempt to stop things from happening rather than to really to be able to drive legislation.

NEARY: What were the issues the she was really passionate about?

Mr. FULWOOD: Without a question, she was very committed to her constituents in sort of the eastern - that sort of overlapped with the eastern part of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County, which was disproportionately poor, disproportionately minority. She was very, very proud of being an African-American woman and serving as a role model for young girls in her district and sort of letting them know that they can achieve as she had.

I think she was very concerned about the working people in her district and across the country. As her stature in Congress grew, she began to travel all over the country to push sort of working-class and economic issues at the forefront.

NEARY: What do you think people will remember her for the most?

Mr. FULWOOD: I think a lot of people, given the untimeliness of her death, they're going to remember the fact that she was a very staunch supporter of Hillary Clinton at the time when you had an African-American on the threshold of getting elected president. And I think that people are going to remember her in such a way as being a very independent, strong-minded person who did what she thought was right, sometimes even if it wasn't popular with everybody. She wasn't popular with Republican sometimes, and sometimes wasn't as popular even in the district. But she did was she thought was right.

NEARY: So this is going to be a really hard loss for the people in her district in particular?

Mr. FULWOOD: Oh, I think so. I mean, I think that even on a personal level, I knew her very well. I considered her a friend, which is kind of unusual for a journalist to say. But she was that kind of a person, that politics and personality and friendship were really sort of the hallmark of her. And I think people in this district had enormous respect for her, whether they agreed with everything that she did or not. And that's what I think a lot of people want in politicians.

NEARY: What happens now with her seat?

Mr. FULWOOD: That's a good question, and to be perfectly honest with you, Lynn, I haven't given a lot of thought about it because I am still having a hard time getting over the fact that she's not in it. I am sure that they're going to have to fill it, but I haven't given any thought. I haven't talked to anyone who has given any thought about who or what or how that all happens.

NEARY: Yeah, a real sense of shock there, I guess, because it was...

Mr. FULWOOD: Enormous. She was with us 48 hours ago. She's not now.

NEARY: Yeah. Well, Sam, thanks so much for joining us today to discuss this.

Mr. FULWOOD: Thank you for asking.

NEARY: Sam Fulwood is a staff reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and he joined us by phone from Cleveland.

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