Muskogee, Okla., Teen Ready For Mayoral Challenge

By: AP
By: AP

MUSKOGEE, Okla. - Nineteen-year-old John Tyler Hammons has a lot on his plate as he prepares to take over as mayor of this eastern Oklahoma city, but he's trying to keep his priorities straight.

Juggling calls from people around the country Thursday, he took an important one from his mother. She wanted to know what time he would be home for dinner.

The University of Oklahoma freshman is moving out of a dorm and back in with his parents as he gets ready to be sworn in next week as mayor of this 38,000-person city made famous by the Merle Haggard song "Okie From Muskogee."

Eventually, he plans to rent an apartment or house with a friend and transfer to Northeastern State University, which has a local branch campus.

Hammons wants to hit the ground running as mayor, but there has been no shortage of distractions since he won Tuesday's runoff election with nearly 70 percent of the vote over Hershel McBride, 70, a former three-term mayor. He replaces Wren Stratton, who decided not to seek re-election.

Besides numerous interview requests, Hammons has received a proposal for a book deal, invitations to appear on national talk shows and three offers for a reality television program.

As mayor, his first priorities are the creation of an independent ethics commission to monitor elected and appointed city officials. He also wants to establish campaign finance reporting requirements for those running for office.

"I'm sure the (city) council will work with me on these issues," he said. "I campaigned on this, and this is something I intend to push.

"First and foremost, Muskogee is my one and only interest right now," Hammons said from his office inside the city's municipal building.

The senior class president at Muskogee High School in 2007, he served as president of both the Young Republicans and the Young Democrats clubs.

"I threw my name in both rings ... and lo and behold, both groups elected me," he said.

Hammons, a registered Republican, is Oklahoma's youngest at-large delegate to the Republican National Convention. But when it comes to serving as mayor of Muskogee, an unpaid position, he plans to govern in a nonpartisan way.

"Politics stop at the door," Hammons said. "If someone wants to talk politics, I will literally leave the office and leave the building if I have to. In this office, it needs to be Muskogee-oriented."

Residents appear willing to give the young mayor a chance.

At the Club Lunch cafe in downtown Muskogee, owner Gary Armstrong said locals have grown weary of politics as usual at City Hall.

"He doesn't have the baggage. He doesn't owe anybody anything," Armstrong said as he served up a plate of roast beef and mashed potatoes. "It's sort of a fresh start for Muskogee."

While Hammons says his focus now is on the city, he isn't ruling out seeking higher office in the future.

"I've always had it in the back of my mind to be governor of Oklahoma one day," he said. "That's always been a dream of mine. If I am lucky enough to be governor, I'll probably flirt with the idea of trying to become president."

His ambition doesn't stop him from enjoying the typical diversions of a 19-year-old: video games, movies, fast cars and rock 'n' roll.

As for dating, the skinny, baby-faced Hammons said he's waiting to see what kind of offers come his way.

"Right now I'm between girlfriends," he said, "so I'm looking to fill that position."


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