Driven by memory, Marcia Fudge speaks for the voiceless

Rep. Marcia Fudge offers a friendly handshake before taking a seat. With dignified posture, she gently adjusts her crimson blazer. Like her handshake, her voice as she speaks is firm yet inviting and intent. Such qualities are an embodiment of her primary mission of being in touch with her constituents and becoming a prominent voice for them that is loyal to their needs and desires; an image that is welcomely contradicting of the idea of the distant, untouchable politician.

As representative of Ohio's 11th district, Fudge says one of her main goals is to be the voice of the voiceless. This stems in part from her devotion to the memory of her close friend and predecessor as representative of Ohio's 11th district, Stephanie Tubbs-Jones. Tubbs-Jones died from a brain hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm in August 2008, and Fudge was elected to serve out the remainder of her term through a special election on Nov. 18 of the same year.

Having served two terms prior to that as the first African-American mayor, as well as first female mayor, of Warrensville Heights, Fudge had already begun blazing a trail of her own before her election to Congress. Prior to winning the special election, Fudge had already been selected to replace Tubbs-Jones on the Nov. 4, 2008, ballot for the 111th Congress. She won this election against Republican Thomas Pekarek, securing her position as representative of the predominantly Democratic district. Fudge was reelected in the 2010 House election for the 112th Congress as well, beating Thomas Pekarek for a second time. This time, she is running unopposed.

During these past several years as representative, Fudge has honored Tubbs-Jones through more than just her devotion to the people. For example, she has worked on the passing of legislation and projects that were under way during Tubbs-Jones's time in office.

In addition, she has introduced a bill for the Honorable Stephanie Tubbs-Jones Fire Suppression Demonstration Incentive Program in the Department of Education. According to Fudge, the safety of college students was something of major importance to Tubbs-Jones. Serving on the Education Committee, Fudge shares this value as well. “This program would promote installation of fire sprinkler systems, or other fire suppression or prevention technologies, in qualified student housing and dormitories, and for other purposes,” says Fudge. As such, Fudge is not only honoring Tubbs-Jones's memory, but she is also making her own strides forward as representative.

Focusing on the present, Fudge is again running in the upcoming 2012 election, to be re-elected for the 113th Congress. This time around, she is running unopposed.

Despite the lack of an opponent in the current election cycle, Fudge still has plenty to keep her busy. Due to redistricting, the 11th District has undergone significant expansion. Therefore, honoring her mission to connect with the community, she has been visiting residents to familiarize herself with the new areas now within the district, simultaneously allowing her new constituents to familiarize themselves with her and her stances on various issues.

She has another objective for visiting these communities, though. Recently, citizens (not only in Ohio) have faced difficulties with voting due to new, more restrictive voting laws and regulations. Fudge has been far from hesitant in making known her opinions on this.

“I have been actively engaged in speaking out against these voter suppression efforts and alerting citizens to their voting rights,” says Fudge. On July 13, 2011 she hosted a press conference entitled Stand Up for Voting Rights with fellow Congress members as well as civil rights leaders. The press conference drew attention to these new, restrictive voting regulations and voiced the need for all citizens be able exercise their right to vote as a fundamental pillar of democracy.

While addressing issues that apply to all constituents, she does not forget to acknowledge the diversity of the district. For example, she directs a portion of her concern toward immigration policy. Constituents will come to her office seeking her aid for various specific issues, some of which would fall under immigration policy. Some possible examples she cites of such situations are “a lost birth certificate holding up a visa for a relative, an international custody dispute, how to apply for U.S. citizenship, employers seeking policy changes regarding visas for highly skilled foreign workers.” She acknowledges this as a testament to the diversity of the district.

"Marcia Fudge was a great help to us when my husband got stuck in Canada in 2009 with visa problems," said Carrie Buchanan, a Canadian living in Cleveland Heights. Her husband, Rev. George Buchanan, was at the time the minister for religious education at First Unitarian Church in Shaker Heights.

"George was gone for two months because he went to visit his dying father on short notice without waiting for his visa to be renewed. His lawyer had assured him there was a compassionate clause in the law that would allow him to return immediately. His lawyer turned out to be wrong.  

"Without help from Fudge, he might still be there!" said Buchanan, a professor a John Carroll University. "She helped us, and many other immigrants and ex-patriates, knowing full well that we can't vote."

As she stands to say good-bye, Fudge offers a handshake of farewell. Such a simple gesture takes on a symbolic meaning. That momentary link between constituent and representative stands for the larger figurative bond she strives to forge and maintain between her and the residents of her district. She does both in memory of her departed friend Tubbs-Jones, and to fulfill the role that is now indisputably hers.

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Volume 5, Issue 12, Posted 5:44 PM, 10.29.2012