Q&A with Michael Blake, deputy associate director, Offices of Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Liaison, the White House

Katie Glueck

Five years out of Northwestern and Michael Blake, Medill ’04, is already working at the White House. He spoke at a conference on embracing cultural diversity at the Norris University Center on Saturday. Before his speech, he sat down with The Daily to discuss inclusion, his NU experience and what President Obama is like off-camera.

Daily: That’s a long title. What does it mean?

Blake: Intergovernmental affairs means engaging with non-congressional elected officials, especially at the state level, to connect them with other parts of the Administration. Our first responsibility is promoting and communicating the President’s agenda and discussing how elements of his agenda can be implemented, applied and beneficial for their constituencies. Public liaison means working with constituent groups. My main role is African American outreach.

D: You’ve only been out of college five years, and you’re already working in the White House. How did that happen?

MB: This is all God. I wasn’t afraid to try something new, and politics is my passion. I really believe that when politics and public service are done right, there’s no better way to help people. (By) 2007, I was working on the President’s campaign. I worked hard, and people took notice. I’m humbled that they thought enough of me, that I could do this job well despite my “young” (makes quote marks in the air) age. I got a call in late December, early January, saying they were interested. On January 22, (a senior staffer) called, saying “Welcome to the White House.” It’s hard to believe still.

D: How did your experience at Northwestern prepare you for a job in the White House?

MB: A Northwestern education allowed me a wide range of opportunities to become developed mentally, emotionally, culturally, and it gave me some leadership opportunities.

D: What’s President Obama really like?

MB: He’s as real as he seems on TV. That’s him, a brilliant man who is funny, warm. He’s a visionary. He really believes in this, and it’s contagious for the rest of us. To be able to see him and that he believed in this, to see the impact of his words on people, that was very powerful.

D: You’re speaking at a conference about “inclusive excellence.” What does that mean to you?

MB: It’s getting as many differing opinions and thoughts as possible. When we do that, we give ourselves a better chance of addressing everyone’s needs.

D: What does that look like, practically speaking?

MB: Well, the President just did a meeting about educational reform with the Rev. Al Sharpton, former (House) Speaker Newt Gingrich and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. It was under the premise, as Sharpton put it, of “unlikely allies.”

D: How did the meeting go?

MB: It was fantastic. One of the points is understanding we may not agree even after we talk, but talking at least gives us a better chance of understanding (each other). And if we can understand the impact of our decisions (on others), that will make us more sensitive to the impact of other decisions toward that group and other groups of people.

[email protected]