U.S. Rep. Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first black woman to represent Ohio in Congress, died Wednesday evening at a Cleveland area hospital after suffering an aneurysm.
Tubbs Jones, 58, chaired the House Ethics Committee and was one of Hillary Clinton’s biggest supporters during the Democratic primaries.
The liberal Democrat, first elected in 1998, suffered a brain hemorrhage while driving her car in Cleveland Heights Tuesday night, said Dr. Gus Kious, president of Huron Hospital. Kious said the “very serious” hemorrhage was caused by an aneurysm that burst in an inaccessible part of her brain.
Her death was announced late Wednesday in a statement from the family, Huron Hospital and the Cleveland Clinic. Tubbs Jones died at 6:12 p.m., according to the statement.
“Throughout the course of the day and into this evening, Congresswoman Tubbs Jones’ medical condition declined,” the statement said.
“She dedicated her life in public service to helping others and will continue to do so through organ donations. Please keep her family and friends in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.”
About 130 people had gathered earlier in the basement of the Capitol Wednesday for a prayer vigil. At the time, there were conflicting reports about her condition. Earlier in the day, local and national media reported that she had already died, and several members of Congress released statements expressing their condolences.
Then Kious announced she was still in critical condition, hanging on to life.
With confirmation late Wednesday that she had died, her colleagues reacted with shock.
“I was stunned by the news today of the passing of Congresswoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones. There is a great gap where she stood on behalf of affordable health care, women’s issues, access to quality education and fairness in voting,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn said in a statement.
“I am deeply saddened and shocked by the sudden loss of Chairwoman Stephanie Tubbs Jones,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, Wash., ranking Republican on the House Ethics Committee. “Having had the honor of serving with Stephanie for the past several years on the House Ethics Committee, I witnessed her commitment and passion for public service up close.”
Tubbs Jones becomes the eighth House or Senate member to die this Congress.
Others include Reps. Julia Carson, D-Ind.; Paul Gillmor, R-Ohio; Charlie Norwood, R-Ga.; Jo Ann Davis, R-Va.; Tom Lantos, D-Calif.; Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif.; and Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo.
She is the second lawmaker from Ohio and the third House committee chairperson to die this Congress. Lantos chaired the House Foreign Affairs Committee and Millender-McDonald headed the House Administration Committee.
With so many deaths, this has proved to be the deadliest Congress in two decades. No lawmaker died in the last Congress, and only one member, Rep. Bob Matsui, D-Calif., passed away in the Congress before that.
The death toll from this Congress rivals the 100th Congress (1987 to 1989), when nine lawmakers passed away.
Tubbs Jones was serving her fifth term in Congress. She was set to be a superdelegate at next week's Democratic National Convention in Denver. She threw her support to Barack Obama in June after Clinton dropped out of the race.
Tubbs Jones became chairwoman of the House Ethics Committee early last year. Her panel is currently probing Rep. Rick Renzi, D-Ariz., who is under indictment, and the DUI arrest and sexual liaisons of Rep. Vito Fossella, R-N.Y. However, the committee said it would wait to investigate Fossella until after his trial later this month.
She was the top Democrat on the panel that investigated former Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., after it was discovered he was sending inappropriate electronic messages to teenage House pages.
In January, 2005, Tubbs Jones made news when she raised questions about the validity of Ohio's slate of electors. Alleged voting irregularities in Ohio persuaded her to contest her home state's slate of electors when the House and Senate met in a joint session to judge the ballots.
By lodging a complaint and securing a Senate sponsor in Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., she prompted both the House and Senate to separately debate and judge Ohio's electoral vote. It was the first time electoral votes had been challenged since 1969.
Tubbs Jones just spoke Friday at a memorial service for longtime Cleveland City Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, who passed away last week.
In conversations before the August recess, Tubbs Jones appeared healthy and in good spirits.
However, after completing a trek to the top of the Capitol Dome a few years ago, Tubbs Jones commented that she would need to "train for about six months" before she could again complete the more than 180-step vertical climb.
Tubbs Jones, the daughter of a Cleveland Hopkins Airport skycap, grew up in Cleveland. She graduated from college and law school at Case Western and worked as a local government lawyer. She served eight years as a judge on the Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County and in 1990 narrowly lost as a Democratic nominee for the Ohio Supreme Court.
In 1991 she was appointed by the county's Democratic Party as the first woman and first black prosecutor in Cuyahoga County; she easily won election with 79 percent. When Louis Stokes announced his retirement after 30 years in the House, she decided to run for the seat.
Her husband Mervyn died in 2003.
She was sent to Huron Hospital Tuesday night after a police officer in Cleveland Heights saw her swerving in her car. When the officer tried to pull her over, her car started to roll across the lanes of oncoming traffic.
After pulling his cruiser in front of Tubbs Jones’ vehicle to block it from traffic, he noticed she was in “medical distress.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.