Lauren Hammond, first Black woman elected to Sacramento City Council, valued political mentor, dies

Lauren Hammond, the first Black woman elected to serve on Sacramento City Council, and invaluable mentor to a generation of the region’s women leaders, died unexpectedly at her Sacramento home late Thursday.

Hammond was 68. She is survived by her wife, Margaret Maher, family, friends and Sacramento colleagues past and present struggling to cope with her sudden loss. The cause of death is not yet known.

“Sacramento lost a titan,” said state Senator and longtime Sacramento councilwoman Angelique Ashby, a mentee of Hammond’s and a close friend. “Every person I talked to was devastated. We loved Lauren Hammond.”

“She leaves a huge hole, one that cannot be filled,” said former Sacramento city councilman Larry Carr.

Hammond won election to Sacramento City Council in 1997, where she would represent her District 5 for the next 13 years. Hammond was the first Black woman elected to a council seat and only the second to serve after the historic council appointment of Oak Park community leader Callie Carney in 1975. Carney, 88 died Nov. 4.

Hammond would become part of a cadre of Sacramento women leaders including former Sacramento mayor Heather Fargo, city councilwoman Bonnie Pannell and Sacramento County supervisor Sandy Smoley, who mentored, counseled and encouraged a new class of Sacramento women seeking public office.

Sacramento City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond shows new Mayor Heather Fargo around Oak Park on her first day on the job in 2000.
Sacramento City Councilwoman Lauren Hammond shows new Mayor Heather Fargo around Oak Park on her first day on the job in 2000.

“She was the kind of person that so many of us relied on. She took everything from winning races and losing races and helped us. She loved Sacramento so much. She played a role in mentoring so many people,” Ashby said. “I wish she was still here. I’m really sad. I’m sad for the young women on the city council. We need people like Lauren to lean on. We lost one of our big supporters today.”

Sacramento Councilwoman Katie Valenzuela is one. In a Facebook post Friday showing Hammond speaking alongside her and Mayor Darrell Steinberg at a recent event, Valenzuela expressed grief and shock at the loss.

“I’ve been struggling all day to process the news. There is no one in this region as encouraging to women — and particularly women of color — as Lauren,” Valenzuela wrote. “She was our champion and our friend.”

Hammond — born Nov. 27, 1955, and raised in Sacramento — was a graduate of C.K. McClatchy High School, Sacramento City College and California State University, Sacramento, where she earned a degree in government. She soon entered what would be a lifetime of public service: 22 years in the California State Senate as a contract administrator and the Senate’s Coordinator for the Americans with Disabilities Act, before her history-making turn at Sacramento City Hall.

It was a dream, she said, burnished by the hot summer of 1965 and the Watts riots that erupted in her native Los Angeles. Hammond was 9 years old.

“We all have defining moments in life that help shape who we are, what we believe, and what path we choose to travel,” Hammond said in campaign materials for her 2004 bid for California state Assembly.

“When the Watts riots exploded, I was 9 years old and living in Los Angeles. My dad could not cross the line of tanks on Crenshaw Boulevard. to make his way home. That night, I vowed to do all I could to make a difference in people’s lives.”

The Hammonds soon moved to Sacramento where Hammond’s father worked as a consultant to the state Department of Education, and where the younger Hammond began to chart her path to public life.

“Even thirty years ago, this community respected diversity, encouraged women leaders, and offered a first-hand look at the best and worst of what government could do,” Hammond recalled in 2004. After graduating from McClatchy, she said, “I knew politics was my path to follow.”

“I supported her before I knew her, putting up signs,” for Hammond’s council campaign, former Sacramento city councilman Larry Carr said Friday evening.

Carr remembered her skill and tenacity and her dedication to her home district.

“I always admired the way she pulled for her district. Lauren spoke truth to power. She said what she had to say,” Carr, who represented south Sacramento’s District 8, said. “You knew where her heart was. She was working for the same people you were working for — the people who were underserved, the people who needed a hand up. That’s what she was doing.”

Hammond would not return to elected office after her second city council term ended in 2010, but she never left the arena.

She was one of the state’s most experienced public policy strategists and went on to lead the Sacramento chapter of the National Women’s Political Caucus and its mission of identifying, recruiting and training women candidates for public office.

Caucus president Maria Madril Hernandez had just taken over the reins from Hammond in the new year and spoke with her Thursday about her new role what lay ahead in 2024.

Nearly 30 years in Sacramento, Hernandez’s connection to Hammond runs deep. The first campaign she ever worked, Hernandez walked Oak Park’s precincts for Hammond’s historic council run.

“We were just talking (Thursday),” Hernandez said. “It’s shocking. She’s irreplaceable. I know people say that, but she is. There won’t be another like her.”