Mar 31, 2022 - Politics

Nashville mayor hires former White House aide TJ Ducklo

Nashville Mayor John Cooper

Nashville Mayor John Cooper. Photo: Terry Wyatt/Getty Images

Nashville Mayor John Cooper has hired former White House aide TJ Ducklo as his new chief communications officer and senior adviser.

  • Ducklo, a Nashville native, will officially begin his new role April 25.

Why it matters: Hiring a communications chief isn't normally significant news. But this hire is noteworthy for two reasons:

  1. Ducklo resigned from the White House amid controversy.
  2. The mayor's office has not had a permanent communications director for 15 months.

The latest: Ducklo, 33, tells Axios his admiration for the job Cooper's done as mayor is a major reason he took the gig.

  • "It is easy to forget just how much has been put on his plate since shortly after he took over the city," Ducklo says. "One of the most devastating tornadoes to hit Nashville, the pandemic after that, major flooding, the horrible Second Avenue explosion."
  • "I think he's been an incredibly steady leader throughout those crises."

Flashback: Ducklo served as national press secretary for President Biden's successful 2020 campaign and was then hired as deputy press secretary for the administration. Ducklo held the vital campaign post while battling stage 4 lung cancer, which he says is now in remission.

  • He resigned from that job following the revelation in a Vanity Fair story that he threatened a reporter who was pursuing a story about Ducklo's relationship with Axios political reporter Alexi McCammond.

What's he's saying: Ducklo says he made a "terrible mistake" when he lost his "cool in an emotional situation." He apologized to the reporter involved and to his White House colleagues.

  • "It's hard knowing that a lot of people will form an opinion about you based off your worst moment. That's a hard reality to face. But all I can do is what I've tried to do since last year, which is show people who I really am and ask for forgiveness and a little grace, and just move forward."

Between the lines: For Cooper, the hiring of Ducklo is an opportunity to continue stabilizing his office, which had been rife with turnover.

  • Dating back to the resignation of top communications adviser Katie Lentile last January, the Cooper administration has lost at least eight advisers, including his top legal, finance and political strategy aides.
  • In recent weeks, Cooper hired Sam Wilcox as deputy mayor and promoted Jennifer Rasmussen-Sagan to chief of staff. He also filled in the legal director and finance director positions last year.
  • "He has built a reputation as a skilled and talented communicator at the highest levels of media and politics, crisscrossing the country to help elect the president while facing a tough personal battle with cancer," Cooper said of Ducklo in a prepared statement.

What she's saying: Anita Dunn, former senior adviser to President Biden, is effusive in her praise of Ducklo, who she calls a "loyal and trusted colleague."

  • "TJ Ducklo combines a strong work ethic and a keen sense of strategy with a commitment to public service, and is also one of the sharpest people in politics," Dunn tells Axios over email.

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