Remembering Stephanie

Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones was loyal until the end, and she could take the heat, even from a friend.

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steph

Journalists like me rarely admit to liking people in the news.

But I have no qualms or shame in admitting that I shed huge, salty tears after hearing that Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the Democratic Ohio congresswoman, died Wednesday from a brain aneurysm. She was 58, and she was my friend.

I came to know the congresswoman shortly after moving to Cleveland in 2000 as a metro columnist at the city's daily. Columnists are paid to have—and express—opinions. I had license to be subjective, whether in praise or criticism of her.

We disagreed often and spiritedly, in public and in private. I took issue with her penchant for secrecy and what I considered to be mistaken judgments on federal policies and local politics.

I was tough on her. But she could take it. "You do your job, and I'll do mine," she once told me. She grinned that gummy smile and bear-hugged me.

Stephanie—as nearly everyone in Ohio's 11th congressional district called her—and I visited each other's homes, exchanged confidences and consoled each other during personal dramas. We played bid whist. She inspired my daughter—whom she called "Babygirl"—to give something of herself in community service. Her cell phone number remains on speed dial in mine; I don't know when I'll find the strength to remove it.

Stephanie cared deeply, intimately about the people in her district.

And, in return, they loved her back. At the time of her death, she was running for re-election, assured of returning yet again to Washington to represent a diverse and raucous electorate.

I live in her district, which includes both poor and inner-city residents along with some of the region's most affluent and well- educated folk. She bridged the gap like few political leaders could. For as long as her district remained intact, she was guaranteed an unassailable seat in Congress. She replaced the highly regarded Louis Stokes in Congress. I can't imagine who will replace her.

Of course, not everyone shared my high opinion of her. Racist gibberish popped up almost immediately on the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Web site when it was announced she was nearing death, forcing a shutdown of the comments section.

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