The following article first appeared in GW Law School's Magazine (Summer, 2005).
Jeanette A. Michael, JD ’75, grew up thinking that being a lawyer was as noble as being a politician. Back then, she was naïve enough not to know that some looked at both professions with a measure of cynicism. Today, the 55-year-old is smart enough to appreciate the collective good that can be done by straddling both worlds.
Currently, Michael serves as executive director of the D.C. Lottery and Charitable Games Control Board—one of the few District government agencies that generates revenue. Under the purview of the city's chief financial officer, Michael exceeds her goals by empowering her employees. “In my role, it is imperative that I communicate where the lottery must be two to five years from now. Then, I must keep my employees informed, focused, and motivated to work effectively and efficiently to accomplish our goals.”
Michael maintains the DCLB's integrity throughout her work. “You cannot have the perception of anything negative in the gaming industry,” she says. “Integrity is our lifeline and without it, we would not be able to sell tickets to raise revenue to transfer to the District’s General Fund.”
DCLB is not solely about the bottom line; it is the licensing agent for all charitable gaming in the District, and nonprofit organizations raise millions annually to provide services and programs that support the social safety net of the city.
Leading DCLB is one role for Michael, whose career is packed with public service on the legal and political fronts.
The New York City native remembers handing out flyers as a little girl to help her uncle in his fight to win a local assemblyman position. Her enthusiasm carried through to high school, where Michael was elected president of all of her classes and served as the first student body president of Mother Cabrini High School.
“I remember spending time with my grandfather, father, and uncles talking politics,” Michael says. Her aunt also was a federal district court judge and her uncle, who ran for assemblyman, was a lawyer. “Politics and law were commonplace in my family. For me, it was only natural to become a lawyer and politically active.”
She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Manhattanville College in 1972, and then headed south to The George Washington University Law School.
“It was a time of change,” she recalls. “I believed that lawyers had the ability to significantly impact the community and earning my law degree was, simply, the next step.”
After earning her law degree, Michael worked at the Consumer Product Safety Commission, before dabbling in her own private practice. But neither resonated enough for her to stick around, and she eventually met future D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.
Her ties to Barry, combined with her own grassroots campaigning, forged the start of her career in politics. She served on a number of D.C. government boards and held high-level positions, including chief of staff to Barry.
Michael says she learned about the inner workings of big-city politics, and those days reinforced her core beliefs, while burnishing her image inside the beltway.
Her first foray into the lottery business came in the mid-1980s when she was named as its first general counsel. When she returned in 2001, Michael was ready for a bigger challenge as DCLB’s leader.
Under her stewardship, the agency has hiked its revenues from an average of $213 million a year between fiscal years 1992–2002 to $238.5 in the past two fiscal years. She did it by instituting new games, recruiting new lottery agents, and attracting more players.
She managed this while battling breast cancer, a fight she proudly says she is winning.
Michael also is a founder of the Black Law Alumni Association and served as its first president. Throughout her career, Michael has continued to be active with the Law School. Currently, she serves on the GW Law Alumni Board and GW Alumni Association Board. In addition, the GW Board of Trustees of recently nominated Michael for election as an alumni trustee.
It’s all part and parcel of her personality, giving back whenever possible.
“Public service is who I am. I understand the obstacles. It’s something I really love to do.”