Intentional Performers with Brian Levenson

Mike Signer on Leading in Chaos

June 20, 2018

Mike Signer is a former mayor who successfully promoted innovation and pluralism in one of America's most well-known cities; a corporate attorney and executive at a major Virginia technology firm; and a public scholar who writes and teaches about constitutionalism, statesmanship, and the rule of law. His leadership against extremism, intolerance, and demagoguery has been recognized around the nation.

Mike served as Mayor of Charlottesville from 2016 to 2018, a AAA-bond-rated city of nearly 50,000 that is frequently ranked among America's best places to live and that has Virginia's lowest unemployment rate. He continues to serve on the City Council.

He is Vice President and General Counsel of WillowTree, Inc., a digital design agency with over 200 employees whose clients include Fortune 500 companies such as GE, HBO, Nestle, and National Geographic. He serves on the firm's executive team and directs many corporate and strategic matters, including contract negotiations, regulatory compliance, real estate matters, and the firm's Social Impact practice.

Mike is a lecturer at the University of Virginia, where he teaches classes on leadership. His books Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies (St. Martin's Press 2009) and Becoming Madison: The Extraordinary Origins of the Least Likely Founding Father (PublicAffairs 2015) both received widely positive reviews. They have been assigned in classes at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, James Madison University, and George Mason University.  He has written opinion pieces and essays for The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Time, Vox, Democracy, and The New Republic, among others.

Mike and the people of Charlottesville received the Anti-Defamation League's Levenson Family Defender of Democracy Award in 2017. He is the recipient of the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of California Alumni Club of Washington, D.C. He is a member of the 2018 class of Aspen Institute Rodel Fellows. He was recognized by Forward Magazine in its "Forward 50" 2017 list of the 50 most influential Jewish leaders in America. He was a 2009 candidate for lieutenant governor of Virginia. He has received senior appointments from three Virginia governors.

He has been profiled by CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Guardian and interviewed by Meet the Press, Face the Nation, the Rachel Maddow Show, and NPR's Morning Edition. He has been an invited speaker at Princeton University, Wake Forest University, Ryerson University, South by Southwest, Georgetown University, James Madison University, Marymount University, Israel's Foreign Ministry, the Friedrich Ebert Institute in Berlin, the Anti-Defamation League, the B'nai Brith Youth Organization, and the Richmond World Affairs Council.

He has held many leadership roles in nonprofits and civic organizations. He is the former Chair of the Emergency Food Network and former President of the Fifeville Neighborhood Association, both in Charlottesville. He served on the Board of Directors of OneVirginia2021, which advocates for nonpartisan redistricting. As a law student at the University of Virginia, he founded the Coalition for Progress on Race and co-founded the Center for the Study of Race and Law. He was also President of the UVA Law Democrats and Co-President of the UVA chapter of the American Constitution Society.

He holds a Ph.D. in political science from U.C., Berkeley, where he was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow; a J.D. from the University of Virginia School of Law; and a B.A. in politics, magna cum laude, from Princeton University, where he was a work-study student.

You can learn more about Mike at his website ( and give him a follow on twitter: @MikeSigner.

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