President-elect Joe Biden intends to nominate Ohio Democratic Rep. Marcia L. Fudge to be secretary of Housing and Urban Development, several news reports said Tuesday.
The move would create an opening in a solidly Democratic district that could lead to Nina Turner, the co-chairwoman of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, moving to Congress, some Ohio Democrats said. Turner and Fudge had tangled in the past.
Fudge declined to comment to the Capitol Hill press pool about whether she was offered the job but said it would be an honor if she were. “It is an honor and a privilege to be asked to be in a president’s Cabinet. It is something in probably my wildest dreams I would have never thought about,” she said. “If I can help this president in any way possible, I am more than happy to do it.”
Politico, The Associated Press and The Washington Post, without citing sources, reported that Biden had chosen her.
Fudge, a former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, had been viewed as a candidate to lead the Agriculture Department. Unions, anti-hunger groups and other advocates had pushed for her nomination. Fudge sits on three House committees: Agriculture, Administration, and Education and Labor. HUD is overseen by the House Financial Services Committee.
Fudge’s confirmation would leave House Democrats with little leeway on floor votes, reducing their already slim majority next year to 220 to 211, with several races still undecided. Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana is vacating his seat to serve as a senior adviser in Biden’s White House.
Opening for rival
Some Ohio Democrats speculated that her likeliest successor is an old political rival, Turner, who in 2012 threatened to challenge Fudge in a primary for the overwhelmingly Democratic district.
“It got ugly,” said former Rep. Dennis Eckart of Ohio, noting that Turner and Fudge have had a chilly relationship since then.
Four years later, Turner irked party loyalists when she flipped her presidential endorsement from Hillary Clinton to Sanders. She went on to be a co-chair of Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign. Despite the rift with the incumbent, Eckart said he could not think of someone who would be as much of a standout candidate as Turner.
“She would be the most presumptive, most immediately thought of, credible person to run for the seat,” he said.
One potential hurdle, however, would be that the district also includes both Cleveland and Akron, and multiple Cleveland candidates could split the primary vote and provide an opening for an Akron Democrat to win the nomination.
A second Ohio Democrat, who spoke on the condition of not being named, said most voters in the district remember Turner more for her work as a state senator than for her controversies over Democratic presidential nominees.
Turner, the source said, rivaled Reps. Louis Stokes and Stephanie Tubbs Jones in having a level of “star power” in the state. She was known for working with former Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, on criminal justice reform and bucking her party on county reform.
The Democrat said the state party has worried that lackluster turnout in Cleveland contributed to Ohio Democrats’ shellacking in the 2020 presidential race. Turner, the source said, might be able to motivate voters during a presidential year.
“For Ohio politics, the concern for some time has been that Cleveland turnout has been anemic,” the source said. “A Congresswoman Nina Turner may be one of the best solutions to that problem.”
The district is overwhelmingly blue — Fudge won with 80 percent of the vote in 2020 and 82 percent in 2018. Ohio law gives the governor, Republican Mike DeWine, authority to call a special election, but there is no specific window of time in which that must happen, according to the Ohio Secretary of State.
Firsthand knowledge of programs
Fudge will have firsthand knowledge of how some of HUD’s programs work at the local level, having served as mayor of a Cleveland suburb before being elected to Congress in a 2008 special election.
If confirmed to run HUD and oversee its $50 billion annual budget, Fudge will have her hands full. When a federal eviction moratorium ends at the end of the month, millions of American renters waylaid economically by the coronavirus pandemic could find themselves facing homelessness.
Democrats will likely push for another COVID-19 relief package early next year that would provide additional support for renters, landlords, homeowners and mortgage holders affected by the massive economic disruption caused by the epidemic.
Biden’s HUD secretary is also expected to reverse some of the administrative changes made under President Donald Trump’s secretary, Ben Carson. Civil rights groups have accused Carson of weakening fair housing rules and will call for the next HUD secretary to reverse those changes.
The Biden transition team has emphasized racial equity as a top priority, and housing could play a major role in that effort. Vice President-elect Kamala Harris introduced a bill in 2019 that called for providing more than $100 billion in new affordable housing funds.
Fudge’s colleague, Ohio Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan, said he was “thrilled” to hear that Fudge had been selected. He described his colleague as a policy wonk with an excellent understanding of urban agriculture, housing issues and blight.
“She’s a perfect pick for this,” he said.