WASHINGTON _ It was around dusk when about 15 of Marcia Fudge’s sorority sisters gathered on the deck of a friend’s house in Warrensville Heights, Ohio.
It had been a tough day. They had attended the funeral of U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a fellow member of Delta Sigma Theta. Fudge, a close friend and former chief of staff for Tubbs Jones, told them that August day in 2008 that some power brokers had urged her to run for the congressional seat.
She thought maybe she could protect the legacy of Tubbs Jones.
Fudge had been mayor in Warrensville Heights, a city of fewer than 14,000 people. A congressional campaign would require a huge war chest.
“We started collecting money right there. We said, ‘Oh, you got some money,’’ recalled Pamela Smith, a Delta and longtime friend.
Smith said she and others had no doubt Fudge, who was the first in her family to go to college, became a lawyer, served as national president of their sorority and had worked on Capitol Hill, was up for the job. Fudge would go on to be elected eight times as a Democrat for the 11th congressional district in Ohio.
Today, she is poised to become secretary of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development. If confirmed, Fudge would become the second Black woman to serve in the post and one of the most powerful government leaders in the nation, heading an agency facing the worst housing crisis since the Great Depression while cities wrestle with economies devastated by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Some critics say she’s not ready, citing her lack of experience on housing policies and what might be a steep learning curve. Fudge would inherit a department with fewer people and funding than her predecessor, Ben Carson, as 40 million Americans face the threat of eviction.
Earlier this month, the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee voted 17 to 7 to approve Fudge’s nomination, with nearly half the Republicans voting against it. The Senate is expected to vote this month on whether to make her HUD secretary.
But Fudge’s supporters say her deep community ties, modest upbringing and life’s work as chief of staff, mayor and congresswoman, have prepared her for the role.
Fudge declined to be interviewed for this story, but nearly two dozen friends, colleagues, sorority sisters, advocates and high school classmates describe a woman who is passionate about helping the voiceless, opening doors for others and fighting to end poverty and hunger.
“She’ll be on fire about trying to do the right thing,’’ said Peter Lawson Jones, a former high school classmate and longtime Ohio politician. “There’s nothing flamboyant about her. She’s solid. She’s got a lot of integrity. And I think that the constituents of HUD will find that they have a champion that’s on their side.”
Fudge’s career guided by faith
Fudge, 68, grew up in Cleveland and later moved about 10 miles to Shaker Heights.
Faith was central in her upbringing and she says in everything she still does. She grew up in a home where she went to church every Sunday. Her mother and grandmother would attend in a full ensemble of matching hats, dresses and coats.
“I’m the kid that sang in the choir. I can’t sing, cannot carry a tune in a bucket, but that’s what we did,’’ Fudge recalled in an earlier interview with USA TODAY. “We were in the choir and we gave speeches …There was morning service, afternoon service, Bible school. I’m that kid.’’
Fudge, who is Baptist, said her faith teaches that she has the responsibility to give back.
“I’m doing the work that God has planned for me to do,’’ she said. “And I’m good with it.”
Also central to her life is her close ties with her family. Fudge, who is single and has no children, has two nephews, one grandniece and…