Philadelphia first knew Lauren Hitt as the woman who banned Jim Kenney from Twitter.
Kenney was about to launch a last-minute mayoral bid. His tendency to let loose on social media — where he had called Gov. Christie “fat assed,” opined about Viagra commercials, and offered that “Jasmine smells so exotic” — wasn’t going to help.
Looking back, Hitt wonders why Kenney took her advice.
“To disregard anything I said just because I was 22 years old and not from Philadelphia would have been reasonable,” Hitt said with a laugh.
Instead, after winning the election with Hitt as his communications director, Kenney gave her the same post in his administration. Hitt departed that job last week as one of Kenney’s closest advisers.
The Baltimore County native and graduate of the University of Pennsylvania is returning to the campaign trail to work for Democrat Randy Bryce, an Army veteran and steelworker who is challenging Speaker of the House Paul Ryan in Wisconsin’s First Congressional District.
The Inquirer and Daily News spoke with Hitt this week about the administration she joined as a government novice and the unconventional mayor whose public image she was responsible for shaping. The conversation was edited for length and clarity.
Q: It seems like you ended up enjoying this job more than you anticipated.
A: For sure. I always had wondered if I might do government. And then when the campaign was wrapping up I kind of realized I was in a unique circumstance that I really liked the elected official I was working for. I really liked my direct boss. And I liked the larger team. And those three things don’t always line up.
Q: Did you feel an itch to go back to campaigns?
A: I realized once I was in that I couldn’t do it for anything less than a year. Then Donald Trump was elected president. And I was really glad I was in government because I remember talking to friends who were on the Hillary campaign and they were like, Someone should give us something to do. We need to do something to push back. And I was like, Well, I definitely have something to do to push back. Cities were at the forefront of so much fighting against the Trump agenda. But we’re now going into a place where we can cripple that agenda and not have all these enablers in the House and the Senate.
Q: Looking back on the mayor’s race, what will you remember most?
A: Well, the beginning was so jarring. It was funny, when Jim was talking about my replacement, he was like, “I want someone who will yell at me.” And I said, Well, you have to remember when I met you it was kind of like an unhappy marriage because you were getting into the race at the last minute. And you needed someone. And I immediately was like, “You can’t talk to the press. You can’t tweet.” And you didn’t see me as anything special and I didn’t see you as anything special.
Q: How did the mayor grow on you?
A: He’s so authentic. And you can’t touch that. And I could never teach it and wouldn’t want to. In the beginning I was just like I have to manage you with your “jasmine oil” tweets and everything. And then I was like, No, I really don’t. He has this wonderful natural instinct with people and he just understands people and he connects with them on an emotional level.
Q: Do you still have to remind him to tone back the tweets, or does he self-police?
A: Two or three months ago I was sitting in [chief of staff] Jane [Slusser’s] office and he came in and I looked over and he was on Twitter, had it open on his phone. And I’m like, “Do you have your login?”
Q: Because you had taken it away at some point?
A: Normally he would tell [digital director] Stephanie [Waters] to change the login. He’d do it for his own health. He’d be like, I don’t want to see the comments right now. Also I think he just doesn’t think it’s funny or charming or authentic anymore, given how the president uses [Twitter] as a tool.
Q: Given your age, did you find yourself dismissed in any way?
A: Oh yeah. Well, I think I was acutely aware of it at all times. So I don’t know how much of it was me being dismissed because of my age vs. just being new. But it’s definitely a thing as a young woman in politics, to have to assert yourself.
Q: How did you end up a Democrat, being raised by two Republican parents?
A: My dad in particular had come from a very-low income family and had worked his way up into a comfortable lifestyle. And my mom was born middle class, but her dad had a very similar story. So I grew up hearing the Republican Party rewarded people who would work hard and was protecting the American Dream. I got into college. And I looked around and I was like, Huh? Everybody here is exactly like me. Everybody here is from pretty comfortable families in the suburbs with really high-performing high schools. And it doesn’t seem like a ton of people are lifting themselves up on this $50,000-a-year tuition. I spent the summer after my freshman year of college at a Republican think tank, just to make sure I was definitely not a Republican. I was like, Yeah, I’m definitely not a Republican.
Q: How was being a woman in leadership in City Hall? That building really has a reputation of being a boys’ club.
A: Jim is incredibly supportive of women in government. He admires people who are going to work hard and do the job well, and a lot of the time that’s women, I think maybe because we think we have to work harder. It’s hard to say you never feel sexism, but I certainly never felt it from him. And working for a woman just is a whole different dynamic, and I had never experienced that before [chief of staff] Jane [Slusser]. I don’t think I would have gotten the job if Jane hadn’t been my boss. Mostly because I tried to talk her out of it when she offered me the comms director job. I was like, “You mean press secretary?” She was like, “No.” And I was like, “But I don’t know how to do that.” And she was like, “Well, you didn’t know how to do what we just did either.”
Q: So now that you’re back in campaigns, will we see you back in Philly when the mayor is up for reelection?
A: I think he has more than earned a smooth reelection. But if for some reason that’s not the case, I would certainly want to do something to make sure he was able to pursue a second term.