The Root's Talented Ten: Michael Blake
Deputy Associate Director for Intergovernmental Affairs, Office of Public Liaison
Michael Blake never imagined himself working in the White House. But "Yes We Can"—then-Senator Barack Obama's training program for young people of color—saw his potential early. Now, the Bronx-born organizer is using his political education to connect the West Wing with state and local governments across the country.
Hometown: The Bronx, N.Y.
Campaign Positions: Deputy Political Director, Constituency Outreach Director
Campaign Turf: Iowa, South Carolina, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Michigan
New Washington Gig: Deputy Associate Director for Intergovernmental Affairs; Office of Public Liaison
Mike Blake is the kind of guy who, no matter what the emergency, speaks slowly and calmly into the ever-present BlackBerry. The lanky New York City native cut his teeth in Michigan state politics before joining Obama for America in early 2007. Organizing, among other groups, black residents in overwhelmingly white Iowa, he encountered his share of frustrations. But watching his candidate publicly and privately, he says, taught him how to maintain his cool. He first met the famously composed Obama in January of 2006, as a member of the inaugural class of then-Sen. Obama’s “Yes We Can” training program, geared at bringing young people of color into politics. “The key thing,” Blake says of the progressive political curriculum, “is that we got a broad context of exactly what this whole campaign process is about—like, what does it actually take to run for office?”
Blake put the “Yes We Can” lessons to work for Obama in Iowa and shifted between political organizing and policy formation in the eight states where he later worked during the primary. With Wilkins, he helped run Obama’s successful effort in Michigan for the general election, and he continues to play a dual role in Washington. He is still working with county officials, secretaries of state, state treasurers and attorneys general to “keep them engaged, keep them involved in what’s happening in Washington,” he says. And he is coordinating African-American outreach for the Office of Public Liaison.
The otherwise brooding Blake is all smiles when he talks about the possibilities for young black politicos in government: “It’s a moment for us to put all these skill sets to use,” he says. Politics is suddenly hip, he adds: “When it’s done right, there are few avenues where public service can’t make a difference. And having blacks who are younger be part of this process is critical.”
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