As a congresswoman since 2008 Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) has largely faded into the background apart from symbolic positions such as chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Local media are celebrating her reported selection as Joe Biden’s nominee to the Department of Housing and Urban Development to replace Dr. Ben Carson. The direction of public housing policy is one of the most ignored aspects of federal policy making, but Fudge’s appointment would add a new element. Could a sector affecting so many low income people, many of them victims of violence by a spouse or partner, be headed by a woman who vouched for an egregious offender?
It is not surprising that Cleveland media has contrived reasons to be excited over Fudge’s nomination. After all, our city is used to being excited by overrated and overpaid elites giving us a rare nod as it went bonkers in 2018 when awarded the hosting rights for the 2022 NBA All Star Game. Unfortunately, in this case it is no mere frivolous exhibition game between millionaire athletes but the person being nominated will oversee federal guidelines and regulates, administer the budgets and agencies, and direct general policy for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Based on the experience of many residents like myself of Fudge’s 11th district stretching from the east side of Cleveland to Akron, public housing benefit recipients should know what to expect from Secretary-designate Fudge: Defending her powerful friends and not much else.
Bean counting for the county prosecutor
Rep. Fudge’s path to Congress started when she was born in 1952 in Cleveland and graduated in 1971 from Shaker Heights High School. At that time Shaker Heights was considered perhaps the most posh of the inner ring suburbs of Cleveland and to this day is replete with large parceled mansions, many of them hearkening back to architecture of the Gilded Age and early 20th century. Her father was a bottling worker while her mother was an organizer for the municipal employee’s union AFSCME. She graduated from Ohio State in 1975 with a bachelor’s in business administration and in 1983 earned her law degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law, before joining the Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s office.
Marcia Fudge’s role was largely as a budget administrator, so she was not someone who would be sitting in courtrooms handling cases against poor and indigent defendants. However, the department as a whole has never had a pristine reputation:
- Progressives rail against the county’s criminal justice system as a “school-to-prison pipeline“, particularly within the main city of Cleveland.
- In 1988 Anthony Michael Green was convicted for rape. A DNA test result in 2001 led to his conviction being vacated.
- In 2019 Melvin Bonnell’s murder conviction and death row sentence from 1988 resulted in a stay of his execution after discovery of physical exculpatory evidence that the prosecution had claimed had been “lost” during his original trial. Bonnell is still awaiting a new trial.
- Anthony Lemons was convicted in the 1994 murder of drug trafficker Eric Sims based solely on his owning a pair of Nike sneakers that a key witness had identified. However, those sneakers would only be released the next year. Yet Lemons would spend 18 years in prison before being retried in 2014 and found not guilty.
Riding coattails to Washington and back
In 1991 the Prosecutor’s office welcomed a new occupant who would carry Fudge’s career from the faceless bureaucracy to local political power: Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Ironically her husband Melvyn Jones had been convicted in 1975 of manslaughter after taking a lesser plea in an aggravated murder and robbery case. Jones served only three months. She also had a felon named Donnell Brown serve as her bailiff. Brown had been convicted in the past for drug and abduction charges. Tubbs Jones’ star would rise in 1998 when she was elected to Congress to succeed Rep. Louis Stokes, an icon who served for 30 years in the district. The 11th District and its predecessors have been held by for all but two years since 1911 by a Democrat. During her first term Tubbs Jones selected Marcia Fudge as her chief of staff. Joining them both was a former Agriculture Department regulatory attorney and a fellow assistant prosecutor named Lance T. Mason. Though younger than both, Mason shared the same ambition as Fudge and had also graduated from Shaker Heights High School. In 2000 after their boss had served one term in the House, both Fudge and Mason sought and were elected to offices in their own right in northern Ohio: she as the mayor of the small suburb of Warrensville Heights, he as a member of the Ohio House of Representatives.
The three were now members of the political class in Ohio’s largest city, where careers are made by favours to each other and not competence in office. Almost half of the 11th District’s population is black, and the median household income is $42,207, which is $22,000 lower than the State of Ohio’s, and the sixth lowest in all of Congress. As members of the Democratic machine that dominates this part of Ohio, none of them had to do very much once elected in order to get reelected. Fudge’s tenure as mayor was unremarkable as Warrensville Heights continued its trend of decline. By 2017, nine years after she had left office, it had the sixth worst rated school district in Ohio. But in 2008 Fudge received the pivotal opportunity that many local politicians wait for. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, died after a sudden brain hemorrhage while driving only three months before the next election. Her political mentor gone, Fudge was fast tracked as her replacement without a primary by the local Democratic party. This nomination is tantamount to being elected and by November she was installed to fill out the balance of Tubbs Jones’ term and the subsequent one.
Boredom in the Capitol
Marcia Fudge has served largely unchallenged since first being elected, but like Tubbs Jones has failed to step in to the massive shoes left by Louis Stokes. Like Stokes she served as the largely symbolic chair of the Congressional Black Caucus from 2013-15. This term coincided with the 2014 midterm election that saw the Democrats decimated in both houses of Congress. Unlike Tubbs Jones, who was adored bubbly personality, Fudge is largely an enigma. She has no spouse or children and is rarely seen at public events. She hardly organizes through social media, with only three scheduled appearances through either of her two public Facebook pages in the past three years. She succeeded a rather unproductive member, as Tubbs Jones had only introduced one sponsored piece of legislation that became law which renamed a post office in the Cleveland suburb of South Euclid. Astoundingly, Fudge does not even have that to show for her more than twelve years in office. Most of the pieces of legislation that she has introduced and been adopted in the House are symbolic resolutions such as the one to have Rep. John Lewis’s (D-GA) body lie in state in the Capitol rotunda.
Fudge’s lack of any achievement in Washington is almost inexcusable given that she entered Congress during the first two years of Barack Obama’s presidency when the Democrats controlled both houses of Congress. Her voting record has shown that she 97% of her votes side with her party leader, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The only major bill on which they voted differently was implementation of the USMCA agreement, a major piece of bipartisan legislation regarding trade. She has served on committees of marginal power such as Administration, Education, and Agriculture, meaning that even for a junior member of the Democratic caucus she has unusually low influence. Compare this to some of the more well known members such as Ted Lieu (D-CA) or Val Demings (D-FL) who have made their presence made through contentious hearings or the Trump impeachment trial. Even The Intercept, a far left web magazine that recently lost founder Glenn Greenwald for censoring his criticism of Joe Biden, has asked how Fudge’s nomination to Sec. of HUD is not “tokenism”. And in truth, there is no real reason why she of all people should head the department. She has never dealt with public housing in any of her capacities, not even as mayor since Warrensville Heights has no such properties. In Cuyahoga County alone the housing authority serves the needs of 55,000 residents, many of them in projects riven with crime and declining conditions. Likewise Akron has 25,000 residents benefitting from public housing entitlements. Those asking whether criticism of Fudge’s qualifications for the HUD post is racist or sexist should withhold judgment. In fact, Fudge would not even be the most accomplished black female member of Congress from Ohio regarding public housing issues; that honour would go to Joyce Beatty of the 3rd District centered around Columbus who has brought funds into her district from spending bills and introduced her own that would have doubled funding for three housing programs. But beyond not being qualified professionally, Fudge’s public record bears a particular blemish not just on her competence but on her character and how she uses her office.
Fudging towards avoidable tragedy
On November 17, 2018 school teacher Aisha Fraser was dropping off her two daughters with her former sister-in-law at her Shaker Heights property when she was assaulted and stabbed to death. Her assailant then attacked police responding to the incident before being subdued. His identity, while not surprising, would scandalize their community and local media: Lance Mason. This same Lance Mason had left his seat as a state senator in 2008 upon being appointed to a vacant slot as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas for Cuyahoga County by Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland. Mason had gone parleyed his University of Michigan law degree, prosecutorial record and political connections on what should have been a job for life. Many major county political figures had been rounded up in a massive corruption probe in 2010 surrounding Commissioner Jimmy Dimora and Auditor Frank Russo, meaning only that there was more room for other corrupt local pols to move up.
But in 2014 Mason committed a crime that would dash all of his higher ambitions. As she was exiting a commuter train on in Shaker Heights, a woman witnessed an SUV passing on Van Aken Boulevard where a man was viciously assaulting his female passenger. She called the police. The passenger was then “thrown” from the vehicle after which she flagged a passing motorist who called 911. Less than a half hour later the police arrested Mason and confiscated an arsenal of smoke grenades, semi-automatic rifles, a bulletproof vest, and 2500 rounds of rifle ammunition. It was a bizarre and unexpected end to Mason’s political career, but he was forced to step down from the bench and eventually plead to a felonious assault and domestic violence charge. Mason had beaten choked and bitten his wife Aisha with both of their daughters present in the back seat of their car. Aisha Mason’s eye socket was broken in the incident.
But despite the horrific nature of his crime, Mason was able to receive a light sentence of two years in prison. He would eventually serve only nine months and shockingly was released in June 2016. Disbarred and disgraced, Mason could not serve in any legal capacity anymore, but he quickly found a job at City Hall in Cleveland as a minority business development administrator under Mayor Frank Jackson. After Fraser’s death Jackson would reiterate that while it was a tragic situation, he continues to believe in “second chances” by hiring ex-cons and felons to work for the City of Cleveland.
The lenient sentencing of Mason would have gone unnoticed had he not followed up his release by murdering his wife in 2018. He was sentenced in 2019 to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 35 years for Fraser’s murder. It was then disclosed who had written letters to County Prosecutor Tim McGinty in 2015 appealing for lighter sentencing in his earlier conviction. Among them was Marcia Fudge who wrote that “the Lance T. Mason I know is a kind, intelligent man and loyal friend”. She also said that the behaviour he exhibited during the beating was “out of character and totally contrary to everything I know about him”. This was not the first time that Fudge had written such a request for a fellow politician in legal trouble; in 2013 it was disclosed that she requested lenient sentencing for Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D-Ill.) because he was among other things “the highlight of our karaoke nights”. Jackson had pleaded guilty for the misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations for his and his then wife’s personal expenses.
Fudge’s response to the revelation of this letter was to say that “my heart breaks for Aisha Fraser. I pray for Aisha’s family, especially her children, as they attempt to deal with this tragedy”. Her only explanation for vouching for Lance Mason was her 30 year working relationship with him, notwithstanding that as a judge and former prosecutor Mason’s crime was especially grave. The weak and compliant local Cleveland media hardly held Fudge to account for this ludicrous association, but some residents were not prepared to let go. In 2019 while at a local public event she was confronted by a woman who yelled that Fudge bore Aisha Fraser’s blood on her hands. After a physical altercation Fudge sued to have the woman placed under a restraining order, even though camera footage taken by the woman suggests that Fudge knocked her phone to the ground during recording. The order was granted, despite the fact that there was no evidence that its subject had broken any laws with regards to the incident. In fact, Fudge’s explanation was “If I had hit her, she would have been hurt”.
Fudge’s accuser was far from some local nutcase, but had in fact been honoured by Mayor Jackson in May 2015 for her work as a filmmaker with a focus on domestic violence. Moreover, the judge’s response was bizarre, granting the restraining order by claiming that citizens do not have the right to confront public officials and accuse them of being murderers.
Don’t silently watch this happen
While they rarely directly criticize Fudge, Cleveland’s media clearly has shown that they are reluctant to enthusiastically back her. The Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2020 conspicuously withheld any endorsement in the 11th District while issuing ones in five other Ohio districts, some of which are well outside the paper’s print circulation. The Akron Beacon Journal also remained mum on issuing an endorsement in the race. Once nominated however, the PD gushed over the selection of the Clevelander without discussing her past connections to the Lance Mason saga or her lack of a real track record to evaluate in Congress.
Over 1.1 million Americans were estimated to live on public housing in 2016, and 10.4 million people were getting rental assistance to afford housing. Add to this the half million homeless Americans, and we have a massive bloc of people that are hopelessly dependent on the federal government for basic shelter or lack it entirely. This should be one of the most central issues in the American public discourse, but as an Ohioan and resident of the 11th District, I know that placing Marcia Fudge in charge of HUD will do nothing to make that happen. In the case of Aisha Fraser, Fudge showed herself to be more loyal to her political friendships than to the welfare of the victims of domestic battery. Is anyone under the illusion that such victims living on federal housing benefits will have an advocate in her? There is no reason to suggest so. Instead Fudge’s nomination is being touted by supporters and the Plain Dealer based on her being a black woman. Not mentioned is the fact that no less than five HUD secretaries have been black (including the first one Robert C. Weaver), three have been Hispanic, two have been women, and one (Patricia Harris) was a black woman. Marcia Fudge isn’t breaking any barriers or glass ceilings, and as mentioned before she isn’t even the most qualified black female congresswoman from Ohio.
I do not often ask readers to take action, but an exception is in order. If Joe Biden takes office Marcia Fudge’s nomination will need to be confirmed by the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. If you live in the states of one of these members, please contact them and tell them to vote “NO”. Because of the narrow advantage of the GOP within any upcoming senate composition, please contact a Democrat committee member as well if you live within their state and tell them not to confirm this nominee. Don’t let Fudge treat HUD like she has done to Cleveland and Akron!
|Sen. Mike Crapo (ID) – Chair||Sen. Sherrod Brown (OH) – Ranking member|
|Sen. Richard Shelby (AL)||Sen. Jack Reed (RI)|
|Sen. Patrick Toomey (PA)||Sen. Robert Menendez (NJ)|
|Sen. Tim Scott (SC)||Sen. Jon Tester (MT)|
|Sen. Ben Sasse (NE)||Sen. Mark Warner (VA)|
|Sen. Tom Cotton (AR)||Sen. Elizabeth Warren (MA)|
|Sen. Mike Rounds (SD)||Sen. Brian Schatz (HI)|
|Sen. David Perdue (GA)||Sen. Chris Van Hollen (MD)|
|Sen. Thom Tillis (NC)||Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto (NV)|
|Sen. John Kennedy (LA)||Sen. Doug Jones (AL – outgoing)|
|Sen. Tina Smith (MN)|
|Sen. Jerry Moran (KS)||Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (AZ)|
|Sen. Kevin Cramer (ND)|