Tammy Hawley: The unsung hero of the Mayor’s administration

After graduating VCU, this Richmond native went on to become chief of staff for a member of Congress and later started her own business. She’s now the gatekeeper of information between RVA and its government.

Tammy Hawley

It’s nearly 1:00 PM on a Thursday, and Tammy Hawley has only 62 emails in her inbox…”So far,” the 51-year-old cautions. That email count is small compared to her typical daily deluge of requests, questions, and emergencies. That’s probably because she’s not supposed to be in at all–she had told the office she was taking the day off. But the Press Secretary to Mayor Dwight Jones neither abides in the traditional 9-to-5 office life nor in the occasional day off. When it comes to the Mayor and to the City, Tammy Hawley is always front-and-center.

Capital beginnings

A Richmond-native, Hawley graduated from VCU in 1983 with a degree in office administration. She moved to Washington, D.C. and spent the next thirteen years working on Capitol Hill with three members of the Congressional Black Caucus. At 26, she became chief of staff for Congressman Kweisi Mfume (D-MD).

In 2006, Mfume was named president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Hawley followed the former congressman, becoming the NAACP’s chief operating officer. “From there I started my own company.”

That company was largely inspired by the company she kept while working in D.C. and Baltimore. “I was in an environment that encouraged entrepreneurship.” In 1998, she founded The Hawley Group, providing marketing communication, public relations, and project management services to clients such as Fortune magazine, the Black History Museum and Cultural Center of Virginia, as well as for government departments of Virginia and Richmond.

In 2005, her mother’s terminal illness brought Hawley back to Richmond where she began working from home. “Then the economy started taking a dive.”

With her client list dwindling, Hawley looked to reenter government. In 2008, Richmond elected Dwight Jones its mayor. Members of his staff recommended Hawley to serve as his chief of staff. Jones had already tapped Suzette P. Denslow for the role, but he had another position in mind for Hawley: press secretary.

Cutting the Red Tape

Tammy Hawley began her new job on January 12, 2009. In May of that year, she met Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist Michael Paul Williams for lunch. The meeting was momentous: it was her first lunch break since becoming press secretary, four months earlier. “Going to lunch is very rare for me,” said Hawley.

She handles media requests, composes press releases, co-writes speeches, maintains the mayoral website, and oversees social media. That’s just the start. She is also a member of what Jones calls his “Inner Cabinet,” a collection of the mayor’s most valued minds. This group discusses and advises Jones on plans and policies. “We’re all getting equal weight at the table,” said Hawley “My voice is as important as the chief of staff.”

One of the reasons the Mayor values Hawley’s input is because of her impressive political pedigree, one that has given Hawley an astute “political antenna.”

Hawley begins her day by reading upwards of 100 clips prepared by one of her early-arriving staff. The clips are from various news outlets, magazines, and blogs that mention Jones or the city in any way.1 After 10:00 AM, when local reporters and editors have adjourned their morning content meetings, she’ll hear from news outlets and either address their inquiries herself or direct them through proper city channels.

“A press secretary doesn’t act as a screen” between the Mayor and the public, she said about her role. “I’m a resource…a person that cuts through the red tape.” Cutting through the tape typically keeps her in the office until at least 7:00 PM.

She said the city’s previous mayor, Doug Wilder, had four press secretaries. Wilder also insisted that only press secretaries communicate with the media. That’s changed under Dwight Jones.

“He was taking the muzzle off,” she said. He felt that city officials “would be expected to respond and have information available.” When you want information, Hawley gets you the person you need to speak with. “I’m the tool for you to get what you need.” However, in January 2017, Hawley herself will no longer be needed.

November and Beyond

Unopposed this November, Mayor Jones will not have to muster much of a political campaign. It’s a political boon for him but one that provides little relief to Hawley and her staff. While laws would prevent her from assisting in campaign duties should Jones needed to mount one, any slip-up as press secretary might hinder the Mayor’s campaign. His second term is all but locked up, which is just fine by Hawley: “I really do want to continue working with the Mayor.” But after that second term, Hawley will be out of a job. The hectic present doesn’t leave much time to dwell on the future. “I really haven’t had a chance to think about it,” she said.

She’s had an insouciant outlook when it comes to finding work since graduating VCU. Jobs have just materialized without much planning and foresight on her part–she’s been lucky that way. While she would like to maintain the outlook that’s served her well, she does have some hesitation. “It’s scary when you get on the other side of 50,” she said.

Hawley is single and without children, which she said are “probably some of the things I’ve sacrificed” from a long career of involved jobs. Though government and nonprofit employers fill her resume, Hawley has still managed to miss out on one experience: “I’ve never worked for Corporate America.”

When city work brings her in front of large corporations, the MeadWestvacos and Dominions of the world, she looks across the table and sees as many as ten press secretaries working for them. She’s thought about having the ability and resources to equally distribute the work she does singlehandedly across the desks of others. It would certainly make life easier.

She might be able to take a regular lunch.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article wrote that Mayor Doug Wilder had four simultaneous press secretaries. In fact, Wilder had four individuals serve in the role during his administration, but not concurrently.

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Footnotes

  1. As a reprieve from the glut of information she surrounds herself in during the week, Hawley avoids reading newspapers and watching the news on weekends. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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