In the history of the United States, no presidential Cabinets have ever matched the gender or racial balance of the country. But America could soon see its most diverse Cabinet ever—with the first Native American secretary of the interior; first Latino homeland security chief; first openly gay Cabinet member and more. In three departments—Treasury, Defense and Veteran’s Affairs—there has never been a woman in charge … until now. Altogether, Biden has announced 12 women in his Cabinet, the most ever.
To celebrate the historic number of women and women of color in Biden’s Cabinet, media thought leader Pat Mitchell is kicking off a new series: “Table for 12,” which will appear on PatMitchellMedia.com—and be republished here at Ms.—every Monday!
This Week: Marcia Fudge, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development
Rep. Marcia Fudge, 58, says it is “an honor and a privilege” to be asked to join President Biden’s Cabinet.
“It is something in probably my wildest dreams I would have never thought about. So if I can help this president in any way possible, I am more than happy to do it,” she said.
Fudge was born in Cleveland, Ohio, on October 29, 1952. She graduated from Shaker Heights High School in 1971 and attended Ohio State University where she earned a degree in business in 1975. In 1983, she earned a juris doctor from Cleveland State University Cleveland–Marshall College of Law.
She went on to practice law in Ohio for over a decade in the private and public sector. In 1996, she was elected national president of Delta Sigma Theta Inc., the largest public service sorority for African-American women.
The Delta Sigma Theta, Inc. sorority has a storied history and a tradition of activism. Founded at Howard University over a century ago, the Deltas’ first action was to join the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession, marching alongside other college delegations with their mentor, Mary Church Terrell, to call for women’s enfranchisement. Members of the sorority today—with over 1,000 chapters and more than 350,000 initiated members—”are highly politically active citizens who leverage their organizational ties to promote race and gender based civic engagement.”
Seven of the 22 Black women serving in the 116th Congress are Deltas, including Rep. Marcia Fudge.
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Fudge began her congressional career in 1999 as chief of staff for her close friend and Delta sorority sister, Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first African American woman to represent Ohio in Congress. The two had met as teenagers and had worked together in the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office.
“I helped her staff the office, found housing, all of the things that you do when you come in for the first time,” Fudge told Roll Call. “She was the only Black person in her class—as was I, when I [later got elected].”
In 2000, Fudge left Washington and ran for office herself, becoming the first woman and the first African American mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio. Rep. Tubbs Jones administered the oath of office.
In the summer of 2008, Rep. Tubbs Jones died suddenly of a brain aneurysm. Party leaders reached out to ask Fudge if she would consider running in a special election for her seat. “It’s very difficult to lose someone who is as close to me as Stephanie was,” Fudge said. “Ultimately I decided that it was probably the best thing to do because I want to ensure that her legacy continues.”
Fudge’s sorority sisters recalled that when they encouraged her to run at Tubbs Jones’s funeral, she said she was worried that the race would require fundraising that she, the mayor of a very small town, would find challenging.
“We started collecting money right there,” Pamela Smith, a Delta and longtime friend, told USA Today. We said, “Oh, you got some money.’’
They raised $10,000 for her campaign that night.
Fudge won the special election and several after that. As chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, many younger legislators credit her with being a strong mentor and ally. Increasing the representation of people of color in every representative’s staff has been one of her goals on the Hill. “So many people of color never even get an opportunity to interview in offices that are not minority-run offices,” she told Roll Call.
“Let me say two things that I very much pride myself on. I’m a tough boss,” Fudge says. “Especially as I take young, inexperienced people, and even some who are mid-range, I try to prepare them for their next job. I try to make them stronger at what they do. I try to give them a well-rounded experience, because I always want somebody to say, ‘Where did you come from? Who trained you?’ I take great pride in that. …When I know my staff is at a point where they want to go someplace else, I help them.”
Fellow Ohio representative and Delta, Rep. Joyce Beatty of Columbus, told Cleveland.com she will miss sitting next to her pal every day on the House floor.
‘Talking and strategizing with her was a highlight of session days,” said Beatty. “Her vision, outspokenness, and tenacity will be sorely missed in the halls of Congress, but I am confident those same qualities will help her excel’ as HUD’s second African-American female leader.”
In her Senate committee confirmation hearing earlier this month, Fudge said that her years as a mayor offered her valuable experience that would inform her leadership of HUD. “As mayor of Warrensville Heights, Ohio, I saw firsthand the need for economic development and affordable housing. We improved the city’s tax base and expanded affordable housing opportunities. As a member of Congress, I tackled the unique challenges of my district, working with my delegation and across the aisle.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked Fudge if direct federal financial assistance to prospective minority homeowners living in formerly redlined neighborhoods to help make the down payment on a mortgage would narrow the racial gap. (Equity is a central priority of the Biden-Harris administration.)
In response, Fudge said yes, because making the down payment “is the biggest impediment to homeownership for communities of color. … It’s like us being in a race with people who have already had a head start, because we don’t have a mother or father to give us a down payment,” said Fudge. “We don’t have the wherewithal, the same kind of income, the same kind of access.”
If confirmed by the Senate, Fudge will face one of the worst housing crises in the nation’s history—far greater than the subprime mortgage crisis and Great Recession. New analysis shows that one in five renters and one in 10 homeowners are behind on their housing payments. Just this past week, President Biden announced that he is extending a ban on housing foreclosures, originally set to expire on March 31, to June 30 to help struggling homeowners.
“My first priority as secretary would be to alleviate that crisis and get people the support they need to come back from the edge,” Fudge said during her confirmation hearing.
“It’s estimated that, on any given night in 2019, more than 500,000 people experienced homelessness in America,” said Fudge. “That’s a devastating statistic—even before you consider the reality of what COVID-19 has done to exacerbate the crisis. According to one study, 21 million Americans currently pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. … Native housing is also in a crisis, with far too many families living in substandard and crowded housing conditions on reservations.”
“Extraordinary times require extraordinary actions,” said Fudge.
And such extraordinary times require a leader who is willing to stand up, speak up and show up for the millions of Americans who need a compassionate and committed problem solver at the helm of HUD.
Ms. Fudge, a heartfelt feminist welcome to the table.
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