MXO BLACK HISTORY MOMENT: Stephanie Tubbs-Jones, The First Female and African American To Become The County Prosecutor For Cuyahoga County!

JONES CAMPAIGNING FOR COUNTY PROSECUTOR IN 1992

US House of Representatives-HISTORY, ART AND ARCHIVES, Posted February 11th 2021

Stephanie Tubbs Jones won election to the United States House of Representatives in 1998, becoming the first African-American woman to represent Ohio in Congress. Nine years later she became one of the first African-American women to chair a standing congressional committee—the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, commonly known as the Ethics Committee.1 In the House, she focused on a range of policies important to her district, including home ownership, women’s health, and voting rights. “All my life I had wanted to help others, and I had been active in helping others,” she said. “I was always interested in service.”2

Stephanie Tubbs Jones was born Stephanie Tubbs in Cleveland, Ohio, on September 10, 1949, to Mary Tubbs, a factory worker and cook, and Andrew Tubbs, an airline skycap. Raised in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood as the youngest of three daughters, she graduated from Collinwood High. At Case Western Reserve University, Jones founded the African American Students Association and, in 1971, graduated with a degree in sociology and a minor in psychology. She completed her law degree at Case Western University Law School in 1974. Jones then served as the assistant general counsel and the equal opportunity administrator of the northeast Ohio regional sewer district.3 She married Mervyn Jones and raised a son, Mervyn.

Jones eventually became an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor and trial attorney for the Cleveland district equal employment opportunity commission. When she and several friends worked on a successful political campaign in 1979, the group began promoting Jones for public office. Noting a lack of people of color on the bench, Jones ran for a local judgeship and won election to the Cleveland municipal court. Ohio Governor Richard Celeste then appointed Jones to the Cuyahoga County court of common pleas, where she served from 1983 to 1991. In 1992 she was elected the Cuyahoga County prosecutor, making her the state’s first African-American prosecutor and the only Black woman prosecutor in a major urban area in the country.4

When Cleveland’s Representative of 30 years, Louis Stokes, retired in 1998, Jones entered the Democratic primary to succeed him. She ran on her nearly two decades in public office in Cuyahoga County and on her well-established connection with voters in the district.5 After capturing 51 percent of the vote in the primary against a handful of other candidates, she dominated the general election with 80 percent.6 Jones faced no serious challenges in her four re-election bids; she usually won with 75 percent or more of the vote, and ran unopposed in 2004.7

When Jones took her seat in the 106th Congress (1999–2001), she received assignments on the Banking and Financial Services Committee (later renamed Financial Services) and the Small Business Committee. In the 107th Congress (2001–2003), she picked up a third assignment to the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, which oversees House ethics guidelines for Members and staff. In the 108th Congress (2003–2005), Jones left the Financial Services and Small Business Committees to become the first African-American woman to hold a seat on the prestigious Ways and Means Committee, which writes and oversees America’s tax laws.8

Jones’s Ohio district encompassed some of Cleveland’s wealthiest suburbs as well as poor neighborhoods in the city. On Capitol Hill, she worked to control predatory mortgages and lending practices. As chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Housing Task Force, she facilitated a panel on home ownership at the Congressional Black Caucus Weekend in 2000.9 In the 107th Congress, she introduced the Predatory Mortgage Lending Practice Reduction Act to abolish certain fees and prevent lenders from targeting low-income and minority communities with subprime mortgages, which carried high interest rates. She routinely re-introduced the bill, and although she did not live to see it, Congress eventually passed legislation amid the financial crisis in 2009 that curbed subprime lending.10

For four straight Congresses—the 107th through 110th Congresses (2001–2009)—Jones joined Maryland Senator Barbara A. Mikulski in introducing the Uterine Fibroids Research and Education Act.11 The proposal included $10 million over four years to fund research by the National Institutes of Health and increase public awareness.12 Jones focused on the issue because African-American women are statistically more likely to be affected than other women and the condition was relatively unknown. “Women deserve better,” she said.13 Jones introduced the bill four times, and although it never became law, she felt more people learned about the disease through her legislative efforts.14

Additionally, Jones focused on fire safety on college campuses. Citing a number of deadly fires in the previous decade, Jones introduced the Campus Fire Prevention Act in the 107th Congress to create a grant program for sprinkler systems in student housing.15 She re-introduced it in the following three Congresses. The bill would have provided colleges and universities $100 million a year for four years and directed 10 percent of the funds to “historically Black colleges and universities, Hispanic-serving institutions, and Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities,” as well as another 10 percent to fraternity and sorority housing.16 In 2009 Ohio Representative Marcia L. Fudge introduced the Honorable Stephanie Tubbs Jones College Fire Prevention Act—the same bill Jones introduced—which passed the House in May 2010.17

In the lead up to the 2004 presidential election, the Democratic Party chose Jones to serve as co-chair for the Democratic National Committee. She told a local newspaper she was chosen for the role because of her judicial background and Ohio’s status as a swing state, but mainly because she was “not afraid to speak out” for what she felt was right.18

After George W. Bush won re-election in 2004, Jones suspected irregular voting procedures in Ohio had swayed the state’s results. Supported by findings from a forum held by the Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, Jones sought a Senate colleague to make a formal objection during the ceremonial electoral vote count before a Joint Session of Congress.19 California Senator Barbara Boxer agreed and the pair challenged the count on January 6, 2005—only the second time since the modern counting practice was established in 1887.20 Jones knew it was unlikely to change the outcome of the election, but in a news conference said, “I raised these objections because I am convinced that we as a body must conduct a formal and legitimate debate about election irregularities. I raise these objections to debate the process and protect the true will of the people.”21 Both chambers debated the issue and ultimately voted to uphold the results: 74 to 1 in the Senate and 267 to 31 in the House.22

The following month, Jones joined Senators Boxer and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in introducing the Count Every Vote Act which proposed wide-ranging electoral reform. The bill would have declared Election Day a national holiday, made the distribution of misleading election information a federal crime, and required a paper ballot back-up for every electronic vote to be used in the event of a recount.23

In the 110th Congress (2007–2009), Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California named Jones chair of the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, more commonly known as the Ethics Committee, despite criticisms that Jones had used campaign funds for personal purchases and had taken free flights from special interest groups.24 With Jones as chair, the Ethics Committee initiated guidance for Members who earmarked federal funding—line items in appropriations bills for specific projects—to avoid conflict of interest issues, and for Members who flew on private planes.25 The committee also began a yearly requirement for all House staff to complete ethics training.26

Representative Jones died suddenly of a brain aneurysm on August 20, 2008. At the news of her passing, then Senator and Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama stated, “It wasn’t enough for her just to break barriers in her own life. She was also determined to bring opportunity to all those who had been overlooked and left behind.”27 Jones was succeeded by Marcia Fudge—one of her former aides and the mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio—in a special election on November 18, 2008.

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