Tributes from political allies and even one-time enemies came pouring in for Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, a trailblazer whose energy and outspokenness made her one of Congress’ most dynamic leaders.
Tubbs Jones, the first black woman to represent Ohio in Congress, died Wednesday evening after suffering a brain hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm. She was 58.
“She poured her heart and soul into her job,” said U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio. “She worked so hard and gave everything she could. I’m devastated. Wherever we’d go, we’d speak of each other as brother and sister. It’s an incalculable loss.”
Tubbs Jones represented Ohio’s heavily Democratic 11th District for five terms. She was the first black woman to serve on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and the first to serve as a common pleas judge in Ohio.
The congresswoman suffered the hemorrhage while driving her car in suburban Cleveland Heights on Tuesday night. She had been driving erratically and her vehicle crossed lanes of traffic before coming to a stop, police said. An officer found her.
An aneurysm is a dangerous weakness or bulge in a blood vessel that can leak or rupture, causing bleeding. In Tubbs Jones, the aneurysm burst in an inaccessible part of her brain, said Dr. Gus Kious, president of Huron Hospital in East Cleveland where Tubbs Jones died. Several news organizations, including The Associated Press, incorrectly announced her death about four hours before she died.
Tubbs Jones, who chaired the House Ethics Committee, was a passionate opponent of the war in Iraq, voting in 2002 against authorizing the use of military force. Just as the war was starting in March 2003, she was one of only 11 House members to oppose a resolution supporting U.S. troops in Iraq.
“I am going to miss her as a friend and colleague, and her leadership will most certainly be missed by her constituents, northeast Ohio and the state as a whole,” said Republican Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio.
She was one of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton’s biggest boosters during the primaries and was to have been a superdelegate at next week’s Democratic National Convention in Denver.
She switched her backing to Sen. Barack Obama in June, but said he could not win unless Clinton’s supporters rallied behind him. She also said Obama should consider Clinton as a running mate.
The Clinton family released a statement saying Tubbs Jones was a “one-woman force for progress in our country” and that they shared a friendship with her that “deepened through every trial and challenge.”
“Over the course of many years, with many ups and many downs, Stephanie was right by our side — unwavering, indefatigable,” the statement said.
Obama called Tubbs Jones “an extraordinary American and an outstanding public servant.”
“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 — and in Stephanie, they had a fearless friend and unyielding advocate,” Obama said in a statement.
On the Ways and Means Committee, Tubbs Jones opposed President Bush’s tax cuts and his efforts to create personal accounts within Social Security. In 2005, she opposed certifying his re-election because of questionable electoral results in her home state.
“She was an effective legislator who was dedicated to helping small businesses, improving local schools, expanding job opportunities for Ohioans, and ensuring that more of them have access to health care,” Bush said Wednesday. “Our nation is grateful for her service.”
Tubbs Jones grew up in a working-class area of Cleveland, the youngest of three girls. Her father, Andrew Tubbs, was a skycap for United Airlines at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. Her mother, Mary, was a homemaker and later a factory worker.
Tubbs Jones studied sociology at Case Western Reserve University on a full scholarship that she attributed to affirmative action efforts.
After graduating, she worked for the city sewer district and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Tubbs Jones also served as a Cuyahoga County Common Pleas judge and prosecutor before running for political office.
Former U.S. Rep. Louis Stokes made Tubbs Jones his hand-picked successor in 1998.
“I wanted somebody whom I felt could carry on what I tried to do for 30 years in that congressional district,” Stokes said. “She did it. She took it to a higher level, a new level. She made me so proud.”
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