Trailed by an entourage of advisors and secretaries, Michigan
first gentleman Dan Mulhern exudes the authority of a top elected
official. Toting a schedule comparable to a politician’s, he holds
a variety of jobs – community service activist, father of three,
personal advisor to his wife, Gov. Jennifer Granholm – and is
anything but a stay-at-home dad.
“The first role is I support my wife and my kids because (the
governorship) is a huge job – very demanding,” Mulhern said in an
interview with The Michigan Daily yesterday. “Beyond that, I’m
chair of the Michigan Community Service Commission, which is a
group of citizens supporting community service and volunteerism
throughout the state.”
Mulhern said his passion for community service dates back to his
undergraduate experience at Yale University, where he was the
mentor of a child in the Big Brother program.
“It really gave me a sense of purpose while I was there,” he
said. “The distinction between who’s giving and who’s receiving
breaks down,” he said, adding that he also heads Mentor Michigan –
which, like the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, pairs
disadvantaged children with an adult mentor.
The MCSC, part of the Michigan Department of Career Development,
participates in fundraising and leads Michigan’s AmeriCorps program
– a community development arm that saw its budget cut 60 percent by
the federal government last July.
The austerity of the state budget situation, Mulhern said, has
challenged his organization and all state projects to act more
The budget deficit “poses a big burden to be efficient in what
we do,” he said. “It requires us to have a different conversation
about the public good.”
Citing a need to reexamine the state government in its entirety,
Mulhern added that Michigan’s problems extend beyond the budget to
include poor environmental protections.
“People can’t eat the fish they catch in our rivers because
we’re not enforcing laws appropriately,” he said.
Among the various positions he has held, such as campaign
manager for U.S. Sen. Carl Levin (D-Detroit) and a Detroit Public
Schools fundraiser, Mulhern has also worked as an educator. Before
attending Harvard Law School, where he met Granholm, Mulhern taught
theology in Tampa, Fla.
Citing the Supreme Court’s decision last June to uphold the use
of race in the University’s admissions policies, Mulhern said he
supports the University’s commitment to diversity in higher
“The world is getting smaller by the second,” he said. “It was
great that the court created room for diversity and affirmative
Before moving into the governor’s mansion in Lansing, Mulhern
co-founded a business-consulting firm that specialized in
leadership strategies. His experience, he said, has allowed him to
offer management advice to some of Granholm’s top executives.
“Because of my background in leadership consulting, I’ve been
working on leadership issues” with Cabinet members, he said.
Since moving his family into “affluence,” Mulhern said he has
tried to raise his children – aged 14, 12 and six – on the
principals of thrift.
“Jennifer and I both never had anything given to us, including
our college,” Mulhern said, referring to a childhood he spent in
Detroit attending University of Detroit Jesuit High School. “Our
kids are much better supported and I don’t know if that’s a good
Although his professional pursuits have led him to some of the
highest offices in the state, Mulhern said he prefers not to
envision the world as a series of goals.
“When I was younger, I really thought that way in terms of
levels,” he said.
“Especially when you lose a parent, you realize the quality of
life isn’t that way,” he added, referring to his deceased
Not even a year into his term as first gentleman, Mulhern said
the Granholm administration has already inspired state officials to
work in accord with one another. By the end of his stay in Lansing,
he said he hopes to encourage more college graduates to pursue
careers in state government.
And in spite of Michigan’s grim economy, which gained jobs last
month for the first time since 2000, he said the state is poised
for an about-face.
People “are hopeful about an economic turnaround,” he said.
“There’s much more of a collective spirit inside and outside of the