Becoming Madison began with my deep concern about America’s leadership predicament and the fact that Congress seems to be broken.   It also continues a lifelong interest in strengthening democracy wherever and however we can.

As for everyone, my interests begin with my family.   My grandfather was a Jeep mechanic for the Army on the European front in World War II and a lifetime member of the proofreaders’ union at the New York Times; he lost part of a finger in an industrial accident as a young man.   My grandmother organized seamstresses on her factory floor in New York City and later worked as a secretary to Hannah Arendt at the New School.   My parents are both journalists; my father was a reporter and editor at the Chicago Daily News and the Washington Post, and my mother was the president of the Virginia chapter of the National Organization for Women.

I attended majority-minority public schools in Arlington, Virginia.   I graduated from Princeton University with B.A. in Politics, magna cum laude, where I worked my way through school.   My thesis advisor was the renowned political theorist George Kateb.

After graduation, I worked in finance for a short time, then turned to public service, working on the 1996 U.S. Senate campaign of Mark Warner and then as Legislative Assistant to then-Delegate Creigh Deeds.   I traveled to Berkeley to begin a Ph.D. in political science with a concentration in political theory.   I wrote my dissertation on the problem of demagogues in democratic theory and democratic government, connecting ancient Athens with contemporary America and figures such as Huey Long.   I returned home and served as a White House Intern in Vice President Al Gore’s Domestic Policy Office, before completing the final year of my dissertation in my grandparents’ old New York apartment.

I returned to Virginia to begin law school at the University of Virginia.   At UVA, I stayed highly involved in progressive and Democratic politics, serving as President of the Law Democrats and co-founding the Law School’s chapter of the American Constitution Society.

I also became increasingly involved in advocacy.   In the spring of 2003, a racially motivated attack occurred on an African- and Asian-American undergraduate.   In the wake of outrage that followed, I started an organization called the Coalition for Progress on Race, which organized the total campus response.   We also successfully lobbied the administration to create the Center for the Study of Race and Law.

After graduation from UVA, I joined Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr in Washington D.C., delaying my start to take a three-month assignment as Virginia Voter Protection Director for the John Kerry presidential campaign.   After the campaign concluded, I founded an organization called New Electoral Reform Alliance, which successfully lobbied for several voting rights improvements.

At the same time, I became a founding member of a organization called the Truman National Security Project.   I also became one of five founding bloggers at DemocracyArsenal, dedicated to progressive national security issues.   The next year, I accepted an appointment as one of two counsels to Governor Warner in Richmond, where I advised the Governor on a range of regulatory and criminal issues, including death penalty appeals.

After the Governor’s term ended, I returned to Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr in Washington.   Then, an unusual call came: the John Edwards for President campaign was looking for a national security advisor.   I took the job, attracted by the campaign’s focus on poverty, military strength, moral world leadership, and a responsible way out of Iraq.

I was recruited to the Center for American Progress to direct a project to advise the incoming administration on terrorism issues and to complete Demagogue.   During that year, I also served as Senior Strategist to the upstart campaign for Congress of my friend Tom Perriello and joined an Obama campaign “red team” on national security issues that met in Madeline Albright’s offices.   I was invited to speak on current events and national security by organizations in Germany and Italy and was a featured guest on the BBC’s series, Doha Debates, filmed in Qatar.

When both Obama and Perriello won, it sparked an interest in standing for public office myself.   In February 2009, I launched both my campaign for the Democratic nomination for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, and the book tour for Demagogue—on the same day!   In a whirlwind campaign, I raised almost $500,000 and came in second out of five candidates, winning several major cities and the endorsements of five newspapers.

After the campaign, Governor Tim Kaine appointed me to a four-year term on Virginia’s Board of Medicine.   In 2010, I traveled to Afghanistan on behalf of USAID to serve as an election monitor for that country’s Parliamentary elections, an experience I chronicled for the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

I launched my own law firm, Madison Law & Strategy Group, where I currently practice corporate and regulatory law, and was promoted to Visiting Full Professor at Virginia Tech.

Today, I live with my wife Emily and twin boys in Charlottesville, Virginia, where I was recently elected to the City Council and unanimously selected by my colleagues as Mayor.

I continue to practice law.  My clients include alternative investors, early-stage technology companies, government contractors, Fortune 500 companies, and artists and entertainment productions. I am a member of the Virginia and Washington, D.C. Bars.

I’m also a lecturer at the University of Virginia, where I teach a seminar titled “Leadership, Statesmanship, and Democracy” in the Politics Department and a seminar titled “Race, Policy, and the Past” in the Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.

I’m equally at home riding my motorcycle, gardening, cooking for my wife and boys, arguing about politics with friends, devouring our local grass-fed hamburgers and barbecue, and running.

Michael Signer


Michael Signer frequently makes appearances before organizations and corporations to talk about topics including leadership lessons from Madison and the lessons of history for public policy.

Contact Information

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