Caucus weekend awards and preview: Assemblyman Michael Blake

When Assemblyman Michael Blake was starting his career in public service, he had some pretty impressive people around him.

While working for then-state Sen. Jeffrey Schoenberg of Illinois, Blake met Barack Obama as a participant in his Yes We Can initiative that trained young Americans to run political campaigns.

Obama inspired everyone around him, Blake said, who took note of the way Obama carried himself every time he got an opportunity to be around the future president.

“That is something that is desperately needed right now in public service,” Blake said. “We need to be inspired by our leaders. We need to feel that there is a cause and a movement that is greater than the individual.”

That inspiration really took hold in Blake, who eventually left a post as communications director with then-Michigan House Speaker Andy Dillon to work on Obama’s first presidential campaign. He also worked on Obama’s inaugural committee, in the administration and on the re-election campaign.

While Blake relished his experiences in Washington, D.C., he always felt a connection with his hometown in the Bronx. While he had returned home sporadically to preach or volunteer in the years he was away, he decided it was time to come home for good in 2013. Winning his Assembly seat in 2014 and re-election last year, Blake said he has been happy to apply everything he learned to the movements going on where he grew up.

“I wanted to come home,” he said. “At the end of the day there are few greater feelings one can have than to come back home to serve.”

And now, with the borough’s profile on the rise and many of its politicians garnering attention as well, Blake said there is a real opportunity to show what the Bronx has to offer.

“There is a change that is happening in the perception of the Bronx,” Blake said. “We don’t want people to look at the Bronx only as the home of hip hop, salsa, doo-wop and the Yankees. We want them to see the Bronx as a place of entrepreneurs, the place of great academic success and you have many rising political stars.”

He will be concentrating on is getting more women in the Bronx involved in government. While there are plenty of examples of men with high profiles – Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr., Bronx Democratic Party Chairman Marcos Crespo, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie – not as many women have been getting involved.

“But what we also need to do is make sure we have more women that are getting involved in the mix,” he said. “Our responsibility as leaders is to make sure you’re cultivating the next generation of leaders and we need to be doing more to be helping more women get involved in elected office in the Bronx.”

Blake clearly has his eye on the national stage. At just 34 years old, he is vying to become a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, a move that some see as a sign of higher ambitions.

“I think the fact that a kid who grew up at Creston and Burnside (avenues) can still one day work for the president of the United States, can then move back home and has a chance to be the vice chair of the party, is an indication that something very good is happening in the Bronx and something very good is happening in our district,” he said.

Blake said that he is not sure where he will be in another five or 10 years, but that he has always worked to represent the Bronx, and will continue to do so, no matter his role.

“It’s my hope, if and when we win, that this will continue to change how people look at us,” Blake said. “We want people to know that when we say our phrase of ‘Building a Better Bronx,’ it is not just a phrase, it’s a mindset.”