Tubbs Jones, Stephanie 1949–
Stephanie Tubbs Jones 1949–
Congresswoman from Ohio
Stephanie Tubbs Jones claims that when she was young, her mother described her as a quiet, rather introverted little girl, one who was content to play by herself with her dolls on the steps of her house. Her warm, engaging smile and dancing eyes, however, belie the confident, dynamic woman who easily commands an audience and has emerged to take the political scene in Cleveland, Ohio by storm, garnering 74% of the vote in her district in 1998 to win its Congressional seat and thrust her into the national political arena.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones was born on September 10, 1949 at Booth Memorial Hospital in Cleveland, OH. The third and youngest daughter of Mary and Andrew Tubbs. Tubbs Jones was raised in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood, a stable area of predominantly working-class people which produced, according to Tubbs Jones, some of the best and the brightest working in the city today. Her home life, too, was solid and secure. While her father worked as a skycap for United Airlines, her mother, Mary, remained at home with Stephanie and her two older sisters, returning to work as a cook in a college fraternity house when Stephanie entered kindergarten. As Tubbs Jones reflected in an interview with CBB, “I had a great childhood, and I never wanted for anything. My parents were loving and nurturing and made me think that I could do anything. If I couldn’t do it, I didn’t know that I couldn’t.” To this day, Tubbs Jones explains that her mother is her mentor. As she explained to Tracy Bean of Kaleidoscope Magazine, “My mother is strong, determined, ever-faithful, and grounded in her faith … One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned [from her] is never forgetting that I am a woman … I use [that] fact to my advantage and allow that fact to help me.”
Tubbs Jones still fondly recalls her early years of education. From kindergarten through the sixth grade, she attended Miles Standish Elementary School and participated in its major works program, a program designed for gifted children. Thus, for instance, she began to study French in the third grade, a pursuit she continued into college. Tubbs Jones still vividly remembers the names of each of her first teachers, some of whom remain friends. Upon graduating from Miles Standish, Tubbs
At a Glance…
Born Stephanie Tubbs in Cleveland, OH on Sep tember 10.1949, daughter of Mary (a homemaker, eventually a cook at a Case Western Reserve Univ. fraternity house) and Andrew (a skycap for United Airlines); married Mervyn L. Jones in 1976; son Mervyn Jones born in 1983. Education: Case Western Reserve University, BA, Sociology,!971, JD, 1974.
Career: Assistant General Counsel, Equal Opportunity Admin., Northeast OHRegional Sewer District, Cleveland, 1974-76; Asst..Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, 1976-79; Trial Attorney, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Cleveland District Office, 1979-81; Judge, Cleveland Municipal Court, 1982-83; Judge, Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas, 1983-91; Cuyahoga County Prosecutor, 1991-99; U.S. Representative, 11 th District, Ohio, 1999-.
Selected memberships: Congressional Black Caucus; Baltic Caucus; Census Caucus; Women’s Caucus; Bar: Supreme Court of the U.S., Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals; Northern District of OH, Federal District Court; Supreme Court of OH; Nati.District Attorneys Assn.; OH Prosecuting Attorneys Assn.; American Bar Assn.; Cleveland Bar Assn.; Natl. Council of Negro Women; Bd. of Trustees, Community Re-Entry Program; Bd. of Trustees, Bethany Baptist Church, Cleveland; Delta Sigma Theta Inc.
Selected awards: MLKJr. Award, Case Western Reserve Univ. School of Law, Cleveland, OH, 1974; Collinwood High School Hall of Fame, Cleveland, 1994; OH Democrat of the Year, OHDemocratic Party, 1994; Black Professional of the Year, Black Professional Assn., 1995.
Addresses: Office—ì 516 Longworth Building, Washington, D.C. 20515; 3645 Warrensville Center Road, Suite 204, Shaker Heights, OH 44122.
Jones entered Collinwood High School. There she excelled, earning ten academic and athletic awards during her graduation ceremony. Concurrently, she was active with Future Teachers of America, the girls’ chorus, the school newspaper, Spotlight, and with the Student Council of Christian and Jews. Through this organization Tubbs Jones began to tackle issues of race relations in her school community, revealing a commitment to social justice which she has pursued ever since. Thus, even though racial disturbances plagued Collinwood and its surrounding neighborhoods during her high school years, at times forcing her and fellow African American students to be escorted out of school, such events did not dampen her overall high school experience but instead, energized her to act.
Tubbs Jones’ activism continued during her college and law school years. As she recounted to CBB, she accepted a full scholarship to Case Western Reserve University (CWRU) in Cleveland for several reasons: her father had told her that “blacks don’t get to go to Case and so if you get in you should go there”, and also because she did not like the restrictive curfew at Morris Brown College in Atlanta, GA, which her older sister attended. While at CWRU she founded the African American Students Association and tirelessly campaigned for the acceptance of more minority students and the hiring of additional minority faculty while concurrently promulgating the idea of “relevant education” and school-to-work programs. She also strove to promote greaterin-volvement by the university within the local communiy.
A sociology major with a minor in psychology, Tubbs Jones believed that she was going to “cure the ills of society” upon graduation, as she told CBB. However, her focus altered greatly after she enrolled in a course in the Black Studies Program during her senior year. Entitled “Law As It Relates to the Black Community,” the class was taught by the late Judge Charles W. Fleming, who at the time was a prominent trial lawyer and defense attorney. Through Fleming Tubbs Jones not only met people of color who were practicing law, but she was also encouraged to apply to law school herself. Thus, in 1971 Tubbs Jones entered Case Western Reserve University School of Law on another scholarship. At that time very few women, let alone women of color, attended law school, and Tubbs Jones has commented that, with poor scores on the LSAT, she herself was an “affirmative action child.” Continuing her undergraduate efforts, Tubbs Jones assumed a leadership role in the Black American Law Student Association and fought to bring more African American students and faculty to the school.
Throughout law school, Tubbs Jones worked as a law clerk for the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District and remained with the district as the assistant general counsel and equal opportunity administrator following her graduation in 1974. However, she yearned to try courtroom cases and after applying three times was hired to work as an assistant prosecutor in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office in Cleveland in 1976. From 1979 until 1981 she continued her time in the courtroom as a trial attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in Cleveland, trying a wide variety of discrimination cases.
In 1979, moreover, Tubbs Jones and several close friends worked together on a mutual friend’s political campaign. When their candidate won, the group of friends vowed to work for the election of one among them. They discussed the importance of having persons of color serve on the municipal bench, and Tubbs Jones was chosen as their favored candidate for a judgeship. In January of 1981, then, she filed for election as a judge on the Cleveland Municipal Court. In November of 1981, at the age of 31, Tubbs Jones was elected with 33 percent of the vote among a field of five candidates, and she has been in elected life ever since.
After only 15 months, then-Ohio Governor Richard Celeste appointed Tubbs Jones to the Court of Common Pleas, making her the first African American female to serve on the Court of Common Pleas in the state of Ohio. After winning election to the bench in 1984 and again in 1988, Tubbs Jones was asked by the Democratic Party in July of 1990 to replace Judge Mary Cacioppo on the ballot for the Ohio Supreme Court who had been forced to withdraw due to health problems. Despite the short lead time and despite running against Republican incumbent Justice J. Craig Wright, who had twice as much funding as she herself commanded, she almost won the November statewide election, losing by only three percentage points.
Needless to say, this race gained Tubbs Jones ever more attention from the Ohio Democratic Party. As Mary Mihaly of Cleveland Magazine explained, “Party leaders knew they had a vote-getter in their ranks.” In 1990 John Corrigan, the Cuyahoga County prosecutor for the previous 34 years, retired, and Tubbs Jones was drafted by a cross-section of the party to run for his position. Following a ten-day campaign Tubbs Jones won the party election by 31 votes to become not only the first female prosecutor in Cuyahoga County but also the first African American prosecutor in the state of Ohio and the only African American female prosecutor in a major metropolitan area in the United States. But, as she told Mihaly, “I don’t glory in being first… I hope I don’t see myself being last.” Capitalizing on her success, she won the general election in 1992 with a resounding 70 percent of the vote and was reelected again in 1996. Jones had truly proven to be a masterful politician.
As Cuyahoga County prosecutor, Tubbs Jones directed a staff of 230 employees, including 150 attorneys, that handled approximately 36,000 legal cases each year. At the time, it was Ohio’s busiest prosecutor’s office, dealing with 28 percent of the criminal cases in the state presided over by the most judges (34) in the most municipalities (59). Not only did she oversee these activities, but she also served as legal counsel for all elected officials, judges, and the county’s nine library systems.
In this rote Tubbs Jones was particularly concerned about the welfare of children in her community and earned recognition for her pursuance of deadbeat parents. As she told Bean, she also valued the contributions she made to the fair prosecution of criminal cases and the assistance that she provided to help women enter this traditionally male profession. “When I came into office,” she noted, “there were ten female attorneys in [the] office. Now [in 1998] there are more than 50.” She also computerized the department and began supplemental training both for her staff and for law-enforcement agencies across the county. “They have to know the law if they want to do a good job,” she explained to Mihaly.
After seven years in office, Tubbs Jones decided to build upon her previous electoral success and enter the national political scene. When Louis Stokes, the only African American congressperson in the state of Ohio, decided not to seek reelection in 1998, Tubbs Jones mounted a campaign for his seat. As might be expected, her platform focused on those key issues which had always consumed her: the protection of children and the improvement of education for all; safe, affordable child care; the safety of neighborhoods; the extension of affirmative action for minorities and women; and the protection of social security and health care for seniors and families. After gaining 51 percent of the vote among a field of five candidates in the primaries, she dominated the slate in the general election: with 52.1 percent of her support coming from business and 33.5 percent from labor, she won 79 percent of the vote to become the next United States congressperson from Ohio’s 11th District.
While in office Tubbs Jones has sought to address the issues which she raised during her campaign. Given the broad socio-economic diversity of the district which she represents, she has focused on economic development and a strong educational system, issues which connect and are powerfully relevant to her entire constituency. Towards this end, Tubbs Jones has energetically worked as a member of the banking and small business Congressional committees. Thus, for example, she helped to secure funding for the redevelopment of a local shopping center with an emphasis on minority businesses. She also coordinated a Small Business Conference in Cleveland in September of 1999 which sought to provide resources to local entrepreneurs. Free and open to the public, the conference addressed such topics as creating a business, business growth, women entrepreneurs, financing a business, and e-commerce. Tubbs Jones is also committed to a decent minimum wage and to a patient’s Bill of Rights, which passed the House of Representatives but, much to her chagrin, did not clear the Senate in 1999.
In addition to broad economic issues, Tubbs Jones has also embraced social concerns as well. Of critical importance to Tubbs Jones is the wellbeing of children, and her positions clearly reflect her experience on the bench and in the prosecutor’s office. For instance, she does not favor treating juveniles as adults. “If we can’t rehabilitate adults in prison,” she told CBB,” how do we think we can rehabilitate juveniles there?” Concurrently she is the original sponsor of the Child Abuse Protection and Enforcement Act of 1999, which uses common sense enforcement reforms to protect children from abuse and neglect. The CAPE Act, as it is known, will provide child protection service organizations access to funds to train child protection workers. Rather than increasing federal spending or imposing unfunded mandates on states, all the money that the act allocates originates from forfeited assets and bail bonds and fines paid to the government. Noted Tubbs Jones in an October 1999 news release, [B]y providing better funding for Child Advocacy Centers and training for child care providers, we can help protect our children more effectively and deal with any abuse in an effective manner.” The legislation also calls for greater access to criminal conviction records for child protection workers and law enforcement officials so as to ensure that abused children are sent to safe adoption and foster homes.
Tubbs Jones is further passionate about the need for gun control legislation. She has cosponsored several initiatives seeking to make guns safer, to restrict the sale of weapons through loopholes to existing laws, and to limit the types of guns available for purchase. As she expressed in an April 1999 news release, “We regulate cribs, food, and prescription drugs, we should regulate the manufacture and use of guns … As leaders we must address the issue of violence in schools and homes. If we ignore this responsibility and do not debate these bills on their merits we are letting down our youth and future generations of Americans.”
In analyzing her freshman year in Congress, Tubbs Jones was frustrated by the House of Representatives’ failure to pass legislation raising the hourly minimum wage by one dollar per hour. As the States News Service commented, she was “also frustrated that the House spent too much time debating needless partisan legislation rather than dedicating more attention to substantive issues.” But such disappointments have not curbed Tubbs Jones’ enthusiasm nor her commitment to public service. With economic development, health care for all Americans, gun control legislation, and the completion of a patient’s Bill of Rights all on her plate for the coming session of Congress, she will continue to press to meet the needs of her district. She would be happy, she remarked to CBB, if Congress could resolve even one of these key issues.
At the same time Tubbs Jones struggles to balance the demands of her professional life with the joys and demands of home. Actually, she told CBB, “You truly don’t balance; you prioritize.” Such a routine is not new for Tubbs Jones. In fact, just 12 days after she was sworn in as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas, her son, Mervyn, was born. As a congresswoman Tubbs Jones travels weekly between Washington, D. C. and her home in Cleveland, sharing household responsibilities and the care of her son with her husband, Mervyn, whom she married in 1976. Her husband, she has noted, has always been particularly supportive of her career. As she recounted to CBB, when she first ran for office she decided to use both her maiden and married names, thereby assuming the public name of Tubbs Jones. Afraid of offending her husband, he only responded, “whatever will get you elected, honey!
Tubbs Jones never envisioned a career in elected service and saw her only public service within the realm of social work. And yet her ride has been remarkable. At the State of the Union Address in 1999, President Bill Clinton shook her hand and addressed her by name, a thrilling experience for her. In January of 2000, moreover, she filed the delegate petitions for Al Gore’s presidential campaign-and filed her own petitions to retain her Congressional seat in the 2000 election. Tubbs Jones is not yet ready, however, to consider the next step beyond this election, where she faces a challenge from fellow Democrat Gerald Hinkley. “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up,” she confessed to Bean-but the lack of clarity about the future does not reveal any lack of direction. Rather, she explained to CBB, “I just got here [into Congress] …
Seniority means everything. If I move too quickly, I don’t have a chance to see what that means.” Meanwhile, she looks forward to a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, which will broaden her experiences and provide more committee responsibilities.
Proud of her accomplishments, Jones does not dismiss them lightly. As she remarked to Mihaly, she sees herself not as a woman who has it all, but as one who has “been blessed, like I’ve been given the opportunity to do whatever I want to do … I believe God has blessed me--and I believe He can take away the gifts He’s given me if I don’t watch it.”
As Tubbs Jones looks back over her 50 years, she admitted to CBB: “I think I’ve accomplished a lot in my 50 years. I don’t know whether there is something else after this or not. I am blessed never to have thought about the next step because before I had to think about it, God just swept me up and said, ’OK, girlfriend, you’re in charge, time to do something else.’ This might be it. I don’t want to be in public life until I am 70 or 80 years old. My favorite thing it do is sail. I would love to have a boat, sail around the world, live in a tropical area, and be on the water. But never say never. I am happy with this so far.”
Cleveland Magazine, March 1993, pp. 30-33, 102-103, 105.
Dallas Morning News, March 29, 1998.
Kaleidoscope, Special Women’s Issue 1998, pp. 24-25.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from an interview with Contemporary Black Biography, January 6, 2000; and from press releases from the Office of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones, April 27, 1999; May 28, 1999; September 22, 1999; October 4, 1999; October 20, 1999; October 27, 1999; November 18,1999. States News Service, December 24, 1998; August 23,1999; October 14,1999; November 22, 1999.
Web Site, Ohio Legislative Black Caucus.Web Site, Jones for Congress.
—Lisa A. Weitzman
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