Michael Signer: The Charlottesville mayor who's now in the national spotlight

Charlottesville mayor: Trump missed his chance
Charlottesville mayor: Trump missed his chance

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Story highlights

  • He has a long history in Democratic politics
  • He has been an outspoken critic of Trump on his response to the violence in his city

Washington (CNN)After racial violence tore through Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, the city's mayor, Michael Signer, emerged as a national voice expressing outrage at white supremacists and President Donald Trump's reluctance to call out extremists.

Signer, who wrote a book on political demagoguery, called for unity and a national effort to recognize and combat racism. But he also believes Trump emboldened the activists who gathered in his city in the wake of a decision to remove a statue of Confederate icon Robert E. Lee.
"Look at the campaign he ran," Signer, a Democrat, told CNN's Jake Tapper on "State of the Union" Sunday.
    "Look at the intentional courting both, on the one hand, of all these white supremacists, white nationalist groups like that, anti-Semitic groups," Signer said. "And then look on the other hand, the repeated failure to step up, condemn, denounce, silence, you know, put to bed all those different efforts."

    Long involvement in Democratic politics

    Signer went to Princeton, attended law school at the University of Virginia and got a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California at Berkeley, according to his personal website.
    He has a long history in Democratic politics, including working as counsel for then-Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, as senior strategist for Tom Perriello's 2008 campaign for Congress and as national security director for John Edwards' 2008 presidential campaign.
    Signer ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor of Virginia in 2009, and then was appointed by then-Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine to a four-year term on Virginia's Board of Medicine.
    As an author, he has made a 15-year study of political demagogues and wrote a book: "Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies" on the topic.
    Signer currently works as general counsel at WillowTree, Inc., a mobile development company in Charlottesville. He is married to Emily Blout, who teaches at American University.

    Trump 'a demagogue'

    This isn't the first time Signer has accused Trump of race-baiting. He told CNN in September 2015 that then-candidate Trump had classic demagogue qualities.
    "Despite his prior glitzy image, Trump started becoming a demagogue when he started trying to lead a 'silent majority' of furious, mostly white, lower- and middle-class voters," Signer told CNN in December 2015.
    He's continued his criticism over the weekend, after he said Trump emboldened racists with his campaign -- and then told CNN's "New Day" on Monday morning that even though he's spent enough time talking about Trump's statement on Charlottesville this weekend, he added, "I think it speaks for itself."
    He was referencing Trump's statement failed to condemn white supremacists or the "alt-right" for violence that left three people dead n the Virginia city.
    "I've already spent enough time talking about Donald Trump. He is our president, with respect. " he told CNN's Chris Cuomo on "New Day." "But you know, I think it speaks for itself. He had his moment. These are times for leadership."