In the Mayor's Office with Gloria Neal, Director of Public Affairs
Our series Talk Shop is a career and style profile featuring personalities from various industries. Esther Lee Leach interviews Gloria Neal, Director of Public Affairs in the Office of the Mayor. Gloria wears clothing from her closet.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY ESTHER LEE LEACH // LOCATION: THE OFFICE OF THE MAYOR
Esther Lee Leach: Gloria! Oh My. Where do I even begin? Your story and career history is so fascinating. It will be difficult to cover it all, but we will try. Let’s start all the way in the beginning to little Gloria, where did you grow up and how did you make your way to Denver?
Gloria Neal: I grew up all over the world. As a military child my father received orders to relocate every 3-4 years. I have lived all over the world. However, I call Denver home because I love it and it reminds me of the place I loved as a child-Germany. I’ve spent the most years in Denver (close to 30) and that’s another reason my hubby and I consider Denver to be home. The military brought me to Colorado and I just fell in love with the outdoorsy way of life.
ELL: You are now the Director of Public Affairs in the Mayor’s Office but you have had such a distinguished and interesting career before entering public service. You began as a radio host on many stations including Jammin 101.5, KOA and AM-760. Tell us more about how you got into radio and the life of a radio host.
GN: I got into radio after entering a radio contest in Colorado Springs. An FM station in the Springs was looking for someone to read the news during their morning show on MAJIC-FM Radio. The format was R&B and Old School Soul. After two weeks of auditioning and interviewing, I was selected over 59 other applicants. In addition to working at the radio station in the morning, I was the Executive Assistant to an Air Force Colonel at Air Force Space Command from 9am-4:30pm. I also attended the College of Business at CU three nights a week. I was determined! After working at the FM station for about a year, I knew that I was ready to take a leap of faith into Newsradio. And that was the beginning of my career in journalism. I spent several years on Newsradio 850 KOA before taking a full time position down in Houston, TX at—740 KTRH. I spent two years in Houston before transitioning back home to Denver where I not only worked as a radio news anchor, but I also began hosting my own talk show (AM 760 “The Glo Show”) and doing political commentary on tv—CBS4 KCNC Denver. All these opportunities happened within the span of 15 years.
ELL: After working in radio for many years, you transitioned to television working with Fox 31 and CBS4. With CBS4, you were asked to do a daily segment for the morning news covering the Democratic National Convention for four weeks in 2008. This four week gig turned into eight years at CBS4! How did that happen? And tell us more about the types of stories that you covered and the impact that you made being on television in Denver.
GN: That happened because I never squandered a viable opportunity. From as far back as I can remember, I always applied myself in every situation. I always thought—if I don’t know how to do something, I will learn how to do it. Or if I already know how to do something, I could learn how to do it better. CBS4 asked me to be a guest commentator during the Democratic National Convention when it was here in Denver back in 2008. It was a two week convention. After spending three days on the air, I was called by management at CBS4 to come in because they had a matter they wanted to discuss with me. I thought I was going to be unceremoniously dismissed. Instead, I was told that I was doing a phenomenal job and they wanted to not only keep me but expand my role. I was thrilled because I saw an opportunity to do something positive—not just for me but for the entire community. I believe anytime you have power or influence you should use it for the greater good of society. As for my impact on television, I will leave that for others to judge. However, I will tell you that anytime you leave a place better than you found it, you have had a positive impact, which will hopefully make it easier for others to follow your example. Professional advice with one caveat—Don’t burn bridges….unless the damn thing was already on fire when you got there!
ELL: In 2015, a bigger city came calling and you moved to Atlanta to be an anchor for CBS46 which was a huge career move for you. Atlanta is a very important market. What was the experience leaving your home in Denver to enter a bigger television market?
GN: It was tough leaving Denver. However, I was actually thrilled because I knew that Atlanta was a top television market and I had never been a news anchor before. To go to that city and change the viewing habits of viewers is a big hurdle to climb over but that’s exactly what happened. The opportunity was not lost on me. Atlanta was a huge professional step for me. We always knew we would return to Denver, but we did return earlier than expected. I have no regrets because I learned a great deal about Atlanta and a great deal about myself while in Atlanta. I developed lifelong friendships with everyday folks by getting involved in many areas of the community, as well as with civil rights icons—Ms. Bunny Jackson Ransom (former First Lady of Atlanta and the first wife to Mayor Maynard Jackson), Andrew Young (former Mayor of Atlanta and former US Ambassador in the Carter Administration), Rev Jesse Jackson (Civil Rights Leader & Dir, RAINBOW PUSH), Milton Little (President and CEO of Greater Atlanta’s United Way), Maurice Hobbs (Professor of Black Studies-GA State University), and those are just a few of the names. I continue to receive requests to emcee events in Atlanta.
ELL: In December of 2016, you left CBS46 and returned to Denver. Do you want to tell us more about what happened or should we leave it right there?
GN: Legally, I can say my case was settled out of court earlier this year and that’s all I can say. Generally speaking-- I will say, you should always stand up for what you believe is right!
ELL: One thing that I really admire about you is your openness about calling out the lack of diversity in the Denver television industry and the media market. As a publisher of a magazine, I really try to do my part in fostering diversity or inclusion but many TV shows and magazines in this city have a startling lack of diversity. It truly saddens me when I open some local publications and there are zero black or brown faces or maybe one. This does not reflect the wonderful diverse city of Denver and all of us in the media industry have a responsibility to do better. Ok, let me get off my soap box now. What are your thoughts on this topic?
GN: My thoughts are similar in that I have a hard time with rationalizing what I continue to see year after year. It’s not just hiring African Americans for on-air and management positions, it’s also about making them a part of the culture at the station. When you feel a part of the culture, you’re more apt to feel valued and entrenched within an organization. The world, the state and the city are more diverse than what’s being portrayed on tv news programs, in tv newsrooms or in radio or print for that matter. Now, that isn’t a knock against the journalists who are currently on tv doing a good job. However, it is a criticism against management and those who are responsible for doing the hiring. Seeking out and engaging those who are not like you has to be an intentional act. It should be done on purpose. FULL STOP. It cannot be an afterthought. Furthermore, the public has a role to play in this as well. If you (the public) do not like what’s on your screen, write to the station or call the general manager or advertisers and voice your displeasure. The people have the power.
ELL: Now let’s get back to the career path. You are back in Denver and you get a call from the Mayor’s Office! You are asked to fill a completely new role, you would be the first person holding this position. Director of Public Affairs. What are you thinking? How did you make that huge jump from the media industry to public service?
GN: I knew it would be an honor to serve in the Hancock Administration. Being the Director of Public Affairs is within my wheelhouse of skills and it would also give me an opportunity to grow. I have known Mayor Hancock for a long time; long before he secured the title of Mayor. Regardless of his title, I’ve always known he was passionate about all things Denver. Even knowing all that, I never thought I would become one of his appointees. All that changed about a year or so ago after returning from Atlanta. During the course of several conversations, and based on my skillset, we agreed on the position of Director of Public Affairs. The Mayor values my role and believes this new position is providing a missing component within his administration.
ELL: So, what does the Director of Public affairs do? What is your role and how do you support the Mayor?
GN: I do a myriad of tasks for Mayor Hancock and the City and County of Denver. For the sake of time I’ll simplify it by stating it is a three pronged approach. As the Director of Public Affairs, one task is that I represent the Mayor when he cannot attend an event whether that is during the workday or after hours or weekends. I will attend on his behalf, as well as speak on behalf of the Mayor. Another major task is relationship building on behalf of the Mayor’s office—whether it be in the public or private sectors. That involves everything from establishing new relationships, strategic messaging or repairing more seasoned relationships. It also involves making sure the Mayor is kept abreast of all the details of what could potentially impact any decisions he has to make. Another role I have is responding to residents when they send their questions, concerns, compliments or ideas to the Mayor’s office. Public Affairs is an avenue to the Mayor and those issues are addressed in a timely fashion. There’s also a component of what I do in public affairs that crosses into a variety of other departments within the city. Those instances are valuable because it allows for synergistic outcomes and team building among these departments. And finally, it’s other duties as assigned better known as putting out fires. As an appointee, I serve at the pleasure of Mayor Hancock.
ELL: You know I have to ask, what is it like working for Mayor Hancock? Give us some tea!
GN: It’s great working on the Mayor’s team. I use every “tool” in my “tool belt” every day and that keeps what I do very interesting. I don’t see the Mayor every day because his schedule takes him in one direction and mine in another, but I feel his support. I probably talk to him on the phone way more than I see him. My office is across the hall from his. However, I have known him a long time—long before he became Mayor of Denver. He is the type of leader who allows you to make your own way—meaning he will give you a task, but he won’t tell you how to do it. I like that a great deal. It is very empowering. He’s also a leader who has a wonderful sense of humor. I like that as well because the days can get long and laughter can soothe the most challenging of situations. It is an honor to be a part of his administration and to serve the people of Denver in this way. I hope that’s enough “TEA” for ya!
ELL: What are some of the important issues facing the city of Denver that you are working on now? What platforms are important to you?
GN: Even though Denver is a thriving beautiful city, some of the important issues facing the city are homelessness, traffic congestion and affordable housing. All three issues are being addressed by the Hancock Administration with the newly formed Department of Housing and Homelessness, as well as the Department of Safety, Public Works and several other agencies. For a complete look at what’s being done, please look at the Comprehensive Plan 2040 and Blueprint Denver which is a plan for an inclusive, connected and healthy city.
ELL: When I first met you at an event, I spotted you across the room. Not only were you so incredibly stylish but you had this energy and personality that filled the room. Tell me more about your personal style? How do you dress for work every day?
GN: My personal style is to be me. No one else. I like to pair up a funky-fresh body-suit with a sleeveless summer dress and maybe some colorful wedges. I like bright colors but not patterns unless it’s a solid pattern. I like any dress that accentuates my waist and flares at my hips; however I like pants too—ones that are wide at the bottom sometimes like bell bottoms for work; but I have been known to rock some leggings that hug my curves coupled with a crop top. I consider myself “curvy-athletic.” I love wearing gym clothes that are a fashion statement even when I am at the gym. I believe you work out harder when you match! When I am walking in that space in my own creation, I feel I own it. I don’t compare myself to anyone else. If I don’t like what I see in the mirror. I work on trying to fix it…FOR ME. I become oblivious to those around me. If I like it, I am done! Maybe I’ve comfortable in this space because it’s taken me years to get here. I like this place called “Glo.” The fit is fine and ALL mine!
ELL: Now, what’s next for you? Will you stay in public service or will you make a return to our television sets?
GN: If man plans, God laughs. God must crack-up when I send up my plans! I didn’t anticipate my current role but I’m so happy that the universe saw fit for it to materialize. Further, there are some terrific people representing the city of Denver and I’m proud to be in the number. As for media, I believe in creating your own. That doesn’t mean I won’t ever do TV again. However, it does mean I will need to be involved in the TV opportunity from the rooter to the tooter -- from beginning to end! I have some ideas and I think cable TV or a cable talk show is more suited to my creative juices. But I will not move my family again regardless of the opportunity! Denver is our home and we love it. Commuting is the only other option. Still, for the foreseeable future I am happy to say I serve at the pleasure of Mayor Michael B. Hancock in the City and County of Denver. I recognize I am blessed because I can turn my talents to many things. I don’t take that for granted. I am just as fulfilled serving in my current role as I was being a news anchor or reporter or even a talk show host. I will continue to blossom where ever I’m planted.
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