Learning The Ropes
Muskogee Mayor John Tyler Hammons transforms from political newbie to rising star.
John Tyler Hammons captured headlines across the country in 2008 when he made the improbable leap from college dorm room to city hall. At the age of 19, the Muskogee teen became one of the youngest mayors in the country with a landslide victory in his hometown.
While Hammons may have initially wooed some voters with his unique personal story and beaming smile, he quickly proved he’s no fluke.
“I thought we elected him as a novelty, but that whole idea went away the more I worked with him and got to know him,” Muskogee Councilmember Bob Coburn says.
“He’s good for Muskogee, and he’s done a great job for us.”
The young mayor got right to work with an ambitious first-term agenda that included efforts to improve public health and increase transparency in city government. Voters agreed with those moves and handed the mayor another big election night victory last year, as he defeated Coburn.
And things have only gotten better for Hammons in the second term. He has continued to grow as a leader in the community, while shifting his efforts towards growing the local economy and mulling his next move.
“I have not yet made up my mind if I’ll seek a third term,” Hammons says. “I do greatly enjoy this, but I’ll have to talk to my advisors.”
Hammons knew he had a lot to learn when he took office in May 2008 and quickly found a mentor in Vice-Mayor Robert Perkins Sr. The veteran councilmember, who coached Hammons’ father in pee wee football, was quick to lend a hand to the young mayor.
“He supported me, and I learned from his wisdom,” Hammons says. “He’s a great leader in our community, and I enjoyed getting to know him. And obviously with that 50-year difference in our ages, it was a unique opportunity for him to learn about my generation and for me to learn about his.”
Along with the ins and outs of city hall, Hammons learned the importance of time management and building alliances within the community.
“Because I was new and fresh and really had no ties to previous administrations, business leaders and community leaders, I had to build those ties very quickly,” Hammons says.
Hammons says his interest in political office was sparked by an assistant principal at Muskogee High School who shared with him a news story about an 18-year-old that was elected in Michigan. The administrator then told Hammons that would be him one day.
“I thought he was crazy at first, but ever since he said that I took more of an interest in politics,” Hammons says.
Hammons believed a run for elected office was in his future, but that day came earlier than expected when incumbent mayor Wren Stratton announced she would not seek re-election in 2008.
“When I was at OU my freshman year I had other things on my mind,” Hammons said. “I was trying to find a major, trying to find new friends, girls obviously and then I saw this news headline and thought, maybe this was the time.”
Although his political future is uncertain, Hammons has drawn a clear path for his education. He plans to finish his undergraduate degree at OU-Tulsa and return to Norman to pursue a joint Master of Business Administration/Law degree. After law school, Hammons, who is a member of the Cherokee Nation, says he would like to return to eastern Oklahoma and work for the tribe.