Marcia Fudge (D-OH, District 11) is the lone Black Congressperson from the swing state of Ohio, which makes her the unofficial head of Black politics in the most important swing state in presidential history.
Ohio has voted for the winner of the presidential election in every year since 1944 with one exception (they chose Nixon over Kennedy in 1960). You would think that a Democrat from Ohio’s incredibly safe 11th district (the East side of Cleveland and now possibly Akron Ohio) would be spending her time talking strategy with President Obama.
Instead, Fudge is forced to campaign in a new Congressional District drawn by Republicans in the state, and has a serious challenger in State Senator Nina Turner a personal favorite and frequent guest of MSNBC’s Ed Shultz, in her own back yard. To get a feel for what is going on in the ‘swing-iest’ of swing states I had a long interview with Congresswoman Fudge on Obama in 2012, getting Black folks back on board and what makes her stand out amongst the Crew of 42.
Johnson: As the only African American Congressperson in the state of Ohio you’re unofficially the head of Black politics and a key part of Obama’s campaign there in 2012. What do you think Obama needs to do win Ohio, and especially to win Black voters?
Fudge: First I want to say that I am 100% behind the president. But, the first thing I would tell him or his handlers is to commit to Ohio early. Don’t wait until a couple of weeks before the election to show up. I’d tell him to make sure that his team is willing to work with local people here in Ohio who know what’s going on and how things work here. He also needs to get with the people more. It’s fine to show up in Columbus and Strongsville (a western suburb of Cleveland) but he needs to get with the people more. Shore up his base. That’s what I would tell him.
Johnson: Why doesn’t he do that more often? Do you think he doesn’t know any better or is it the people he’s working with?
Fudge: I really think his advisors do him a disservice. Those advisors don’t really know the community well.
Johnson: It’s subsided a bit since this summer, but there is a lot a anger out there in the Black community about the president. More anger against him than there was against Bill Clinton even after some of the things that Clinton did. Do you think that this anger is real, or is the press playing it up? Also do you think it’s justified?
Fudge: I think it’s a combination of both. Black people had high expectations of Obama, high expectations of having a Black president. Some were unrealistic. Many people felt like their lives would change, but they look around and there’s still foreclosures, high unemployment, so no change. And since the whole [campaign] was about change – they are frustrated. And you know, we’re harder on our own than anybody else.
The media also plays it up as well. They wanted to play up disagreements with Obama and the CBC and make that a big issue. I’ll say this, I support the president, sometimes I disagree with him, but his job is completely different than mine. He has to consider everything, the whole country, my job is to look at my single district, District 11 (in Ohio). We may not always agree but I support him and I know he has a different job than me.
Johnson: This year you are one of the few members of the CBC to have a major challenger …..
Fudge: Actually CBC members get challenged all the time.
Johnson: What is your strategy when you run for re-election this year? Are you going to talk about what you’ve done, or what you plan to do? Does your strategy change because it looks like your congressional district will now include the city of Akron?
Fudge: My Strategy is to stand on my record. Further it’s to state my intentions for the next term. I am also going to tell people what I stand for. As far as Akron, that doesn’t really change my strategy, I have already been working with Akron and the city and it’s problems, knowing that this was a possibility. (note: Yesterday the Republican controlled state house in Ohio approved a new congressional district map that extended Ohio District 11 from the eastern part of Cleveland down to Akron Ohio about 30 miles away.)
Johnson: This year you have a fairly strong challenger in your upcoming election. I’m going to ask you to speculate: why do you think you’re being challenged this year?
Fudge: Well first let me say that the first time I ran there were some pretty strong challengers then to, so this isn’t the first time I’ve had challengers. I couldn’t even begin to speculate on why someone is challenging me. But I can say that elections are there for citizens to ask what have you done for me? And I’m proud to talk about what I’ve done and where this district is. It’s about a Democratic process and I fully support that.
Johnson: There are 44 members of the Congressional Black Caucus and in some ways we [African Americans] feel like you represent all of us even if you aren’t from our district. My question for you is: What makes you different? How do you stand out, as a relatively new member, amongst the 44 members of the CBC?
Fudge: Well, first I would say I don’t just represent Black people, and if you look at a lot of districts, where CBC members come from, I have one of the most diverse districts in America. I have one of the largest Jewish populations in the country in my district, when I go to the lower west side I have a large Latino population and of course a large Black population. I have one of the poorest cities in America in my district, East Cleveland and at the same time I have some of the richest neighborhoods in the country. So, I really represent one of the most diverse congressional districts in the country.
Now, I think what makes me different from most, from a lot of CBC members is that I came into office with administrative and executive experience. A lot of people only come in with legislative experience but I was a mayor, I know the problems that cities face. I can also say this, I’m a fighter. I will do what I say I’m going to do. They’ll tell you [CBC members] I’m one of the top 10 fighters in the CBC in a relatively short period of time.
Dr. Jason Johnson, Politic365 Chief Political Correspondent, is a professor of Political Science at Hiram College in Ohio and author of the book Political Consultants and Campaigns: One Day to Sell. You can read more at www.drjasonjohnson.com or follow him on Twitter @Drjasonjohnson