Earlier this year, Marcia L. Fudge, Democrat of Ohio, became chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. Fudge, 60 years old, is a lawyer who served two terms as mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, a Cleveland suburb. She arrived in Washington in 2009, taking the seat of her political mentor, the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones. Fudge recently talked with EBONY about the economy, President Obama, and how she juggles her many roles.
EBONY: You’ve been in Washington about four years. What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about Washington so far?
Marcia L. Fudge: As a policy person, I expect everyone will do what they believe is best for the people they represent. As a mayor, you work with the city council, and you can always give enough facts for people to make a decision about what’s best for the city – even though they may not personally like the decision. In Washington, we have people who say ‘no’ based on politics. Legislation is about the art of compromise.
EBONY: Is compromise a dead concept in Washington?
MLF: I don’t think it’s totally dead. But it’s getting more difficult.
EBONY: For many African Americans, the economy isn’t getting better. What can Washington – Congress, specifically – do to help the economy rebound?
MLF: We have to create an environment that makes people want to hire. When the federal government can’t make a decision as to what we’re going to do fiscally, that creates a lot of uneasiness in the market. We can say – ‘look, for the next 5 years, this is the direction we’re going to go in. This is what the taxes are going to be. This is what we do to create jobs. This is what we do for business taxes.’ The wrong way to go is to start cutting everything across the board.
EBONY: “Austerity” is a buzzword in Washington and state capitals. What might be the consequences of deep budget cuts Republicans want?
MLF: We’re going to go into a Depression. We’ll have more people out of work – and more problems we can’t fix. We can’t pay for people to be on unemployment insurance. Any economist will tell you that. They’ll tell you that in the short-term we just need to jumpstart the economy. But in the long-term, you have to have a path to start looking seriously at our debt.
EBONY: How is the CBC’s relationship with the Obama White House?
MLF: I have a good relationship. Look, there needs to be some targeted efforts to poor and minority communities, as it relates to infrastructure, job training, education. That goes to all communities that are historically poor and underserved. Many of those happen to be African American.
EBONY: The country seems to lack the taste for policies explicitly targeting African Americans. How do you deal with that?
MLF: The Congressional Black Caucus is not at a place where we don’t want to talk about it. We intend to talk about it everyday. It’s important that there be a voice for people who need that kind of targeting.
EBONY: What do you make of this situation in which we’re discussing diversity issues in the first Black president’s cabinet?
MLF: It’s an interesting dilemma to find ourselves in. I have raised the issue about diversity in the president’s cabinet. We’ve made recommendations. That’s one of the things we’ll continue to talk with the White House about.
EBONY: What can be done to bring younger African Americans into politics – and, ultimately, Congress?
MLF: One thing I always say to young people is they can’t expect people to just come to them and say, ‘You know what, we want you to run for Congress.’ They have to make the investment in themselves. That means they have to be active in their churches, working on other peoples’ campaigns and understand what government really is. Politics and government affects every aspect of your life – your education, the air, the food you eat. I want more young people to be involved. We’re not going to be here forever.
EBONY: How do you juggle all these roles?
MLF: I don’t think there’s balance anymore. It’s like being on a treadmill. I try to get back to Cleveland every weekend. You find a day or two to take off. But I haven’t had a chance to do that since the election. It’s going to be a tough, tough year.