The Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2015

Photo Credit: Leigh Vogel, the Aspen Institute

Photo by Sarah Cramer Shields

The Center for American Progress, 2009

Photo by Jen Fariello

About Mike

Mike is an award-winning former mayor, a corporate executive and practicing attorney, and a public scholar whose leadership in support of democratic values, and against extremism and intolerance, has been recognized around the nation.

As Mayor of Charlottesville, he successfully promoted innovation and pluralism in one of America's most well-known cities.  As an author and public scholar, he frequently writes and speaks about constitutionalism, statesmanship, and the rule of law.  And as an executive and general counsel at a major Virginia technology firm, he understands what it takes to create jobs in today's economy.

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.

In the wake of the violent "Unite the Right" rally in August 2017, Mike became  Founder and Chair of Communities Overcoming Extremism: the After Charlottesville Project, an initiative of ​organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the Center for American Progress, the Charles Koch institute, the Fetzer Institute, Hope Not Hate, and the National Immigration Forum.  In October 2019, in an event at New America in Washington, D.C., the project released its Final Report and podcast series titled "Overcoming Extremism." 

Mike's 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.

He is Vice President and General Counsel of a major Central Virginia technology company with over 400 employees and multiple Fortune 100 clients.  He serves on the firm's executive team and coordinates many corporate and strategic matters, including contract negotiations, regulatory compliance, real estate matters, and the firm's Social Impact practice.

Mike received the 2017 Anti-Defamation League's Levenson Family Defender of Democracy Award, the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of California Alumni Club of Washington, D.C., the 2019 Courage in Political Leadership Award from the American Society for Yad Vashem, and the 2019 Rob DeBree and David O'Malley Award for Community Response to Hatred from the Matthew Shepard Foundation. 

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 NPR, 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, Georgetown University, James Madison University, Marymount University, Wake Forest University, Ryerson University, the Aspen Ideas Festival, South by Southwest, the Concordia Summit, 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.

Mayor of Charlottesville

Mike was elected to the Charlottesville City Council in November 2015.  In January 2016, Mike was unanimously selected by his peers to serve as Mayor. He announced that his major priorities would be innovation, infrastructure, governance, and reconciliation. He served a two-year term as Mayor from 2016 to 2018, during which he worked with his colleagues and staff to enact major new commitments in these areas, including:

  • Doubling the City's contribution to the Affordable Housing Fund

  • Renewing and expanding the technology tax credit from five to seven years

  • Founding the Mayor's Advisory Council on Innovation and Technology

  • Passing the $35 million West Main Streetscape Plan

  • Becoming the first Virginia city to require city agencies to register voters online

  • Expanding support for immigrants and refugees, including through a $10,000 contribution to the Legal Aid Justice Center for legal services for these populations.

  • Implementing a regionalism initiative with Albemarle County including five memorandums of understanding on key policy areas

  • Implementing an Open Data Policy

  • Cutting fees for over 400 small businesses grossing between $50,000 and $100,000 a year

  • Allocating $80,000 to the rehabilitation of the historic African-American Daughters of Zion cemetery

  • Passing anti-gentrification zoning protections for the Rose Hill and Woolen Mills Neighborhoods

  • Implementing a wide range of recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Race, Memorials, and Public Spaces, including dedicating $900,000 to the African-American Heritage Center and re-instituting the Charlottesville Dialogue on Race

  • Collaborating with Georgetown University to successfully sue paramilitary organizations and individuals in the wake of the August 12 "Unite the Right" rally to prevent them from invading Charlottesville again

  • Overhauling the City's event permitting regulations to enhance public safety

During Mike's tenure, Charlottesville was named the #4 city in America for entrepreneurs by Entrepreneur magazine, the #5 Happiest, Healthiest City by the Today show, and the #5 best place to live by

After his tenure as Mayor, Mike served another two years on City Council, where he was a member of the Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Charlottesville Albemarle Convention and Visitors Bureau, the City’s Audit Committee, and the  LEAP Governance Board.

Legal Career

Mike is an experienced corporate attorney with substantial experience in public sector and pro bono law. 

He began his legal career as a law clerk at the Legal Aid Justice Center in Charlottesville, where he worked on predatory lending cases. From 2004 to 2007, he was an associate in the Corporate, Government Litigation, and Public Policy and Strategy Groups at WilmerHale in Washington, D.C. He took a leave from WilmerHale to serve as counsel in the Richmond office of Governor Mark Warner of Virginia from 2005 to 2006, where he advised the Governor on a wide range of criminal, regulatory, and strategic matters, including a review of DNA evidence in criminal cases and death penalty appeals.

In 2010, he launched Madison Law & Strategy Group, PLLC, where he practiced corporate and regulatory law through 2016. His clients included alternative investors, early-stage technology companies, government contractors, Fortune 500 companies, and artists and entertainment productions. He served as outside general counsel to multiple early-stage companies and as a literary agent and general counsel on entertainment productions. He also worked with clients to assess and manage the impacts of federal and state regulatory rulemakings and policymaking on their businesses.  He has counseled clients on federal financial regulation, traditional and alternative energy regulation, infrastructure policy, national security and defense, and government contracting. 

He is a former member of the Economic Club of Washington. In 2009, Governor Tim Kaine appointed him to a four-year term as a citizen member of Virginia's Board of Medicine, which regulates and disciplines over 50,000 doctors. He served as Chair of the Pro Bono Commission of the Young Lawyers Conference of the Virginia State Bar and was later appointed to the Virginia State Bar's Access to Legal Services Commission. In 2016, Governor Terry McAuliffe appointed him to the Council on Virginia's Future.

For many years, Mike has been a leading voting rights attorney in Virginia. He helped to run eight Democratic voter protection programs, including directing the 2004 statewide effort for the Democratic National Committee, and traveled to wartime Afghanistan in 2010 to monitor the country's parliamentary elections on behalf of the U.S. government.

He is a current member of the Association of Corporate Counsel and served as Co-Chair of the Business Law Section of the Charlottesville-Albemarle Bar Association and as a member of the Corporate Counsel Section of the Virginia State Bar. He is a member of both the Virginia and Washington, D.C. Bars.

National Security

In 2005, Mike became a founding member and Principal of the Truman National Security Project and a founding contributor to the Democracy Arsenal blog. He authored an influential article on American exceptionalism in the inaugural issue of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas, after which he was hired as staff national security director for the 2008 John Edwards for President campaign, where he served as a surrogate at campaign events in Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, and directed the campaign's Iowa City office.


He served as Senior Policy Advisor at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, where he was executive director of the Homeland Security Presidential Transition Initiative, which successfully advocated for reforms including the merger of the Homeland Security Council and the National Security Council in the new Obama administration. He was a member of the State Department Transition team for President-elect Barack Obama. He has spoken on national security and foreign policy to the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Center for American Progress, the Doha Forum in Qatar, the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung in Berlin, and the German Marshall Foundation in Tremezzo, Italy. 


He was a member of the Boards of Directors of the Truman National Security Project Educational Institute and the Center for National Policy in Washington, D.C., and chaired the E3 Initiative at the Progressive Policy Institute, which advocated for the nexus between clean energy and national security. He served as Chair of Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Transition Council on Homeland Security and as Vice-Chair of Arlington County's Emergency Preparedness Advisory Commission.


Mike was raised in Arlington, Virginia, where he attended majority-minority public schools.  He and his wife live with their twin boys in Charlottesville.  In his spare time, Mike enjoys running, reading, cooking, gardening, and serving as a jungle gym for his boys.

© 2018 by Michael Signer.