Smile Politely

Celebrating C-U Life: Katie Malone Blakeman

Where were you born?

Carle Hospital, Urbana IL

Tell me about your childhood (parents, siblings, favorite vacations, most memorable experiences).

I had a great childhood growing up in Champaign. My parents are Bill and Debby Malone, and I have two younger siblings; Adam Malone and Sarah Malone. My mom taught for 32 years at MLK Jr. Elementary School in Urbana, and now teaches part time for the Tolono school district.  My dad works for Ludwig Brothers, and just completed his term as president of Champaign Rotary. My brother Adam is a chef and lives here in Champaign. My sister works for Roundabout Theater Company in NYC doing educational outreach. We are a very close family, and I would say that my childhood was very blessed. My dad loves road trips, and every summer we would take a National Lampoon style vacation to places like the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone National Park. I believe I have been to at least 40 states, and that is thanks to my parents.

I went to Westview Elementary School, Franklin Middle School, and Centennial High School. I think my best experiences were in high school, because I was able to join so many organizations. I was president of the Speech Team and German Honor Society, and sang in the show choir. My very best memories come from performing in musicals like “South Pacific”, “The Music Man”, and “Brigadoon”.

Did you have any nicknames growing up?

Not really, I think I was just a little too nerdy to have a nickname.  Also, since my given name is Katie, and not a longer name like Katherine, people didn’t really have a way to shorten it. I used to tell my parents that I wished they had given me a “grown up” name so I would have something more professional to use on resumes, but now I can’t imagine being anything other than just Katie.  
Do you have any nicknames now?

Nope, still too nerdy. My daughter calls me “Mama”, and that’s all the nickname I need.

When you were younger what was your dream career?

I know there was a time when I wanted to be the first female president, but I also wanted to be an opera singer.  I received a vocal music scholarship to Augustana College, and initially majored in Vocal Performance. Even after I changed majors, I still sang in the Augustana Choir, which was a renowned traveling choral group, and performed in the Handel Oratorio Society and several operas.

What’s the first job you ever had?
When I was growing up, my father worked for Prairie Gardens, so I began pricing candles and ornaments for candy money as early as eight. As soon as I turned fourteen (the earliest age to receive a worker’s permit in Illinois at the time), I started working at the store on weekends and during school breaks.

What did you like/not like about it?

I loved working at the store – it gave me such a great sense of accomplishment when I earned my own spending money. It also sparked my passion for great customer service. Even at that age, I was looking for ways to make the shopping experience better for customers. I’m sure the full-time employees found it amusing when I would make suggestions for better product placement at the age of 14. However, I earned my first management role at 16, so I must have done something right. The thing about retail that I definitely do not miss is working the day after Thanksgiving.  I’ve worked a few different retail jobs in my life, and I have no desire to ever work a 12+ hour shift on Black Friday again.
What was your career path before you decided to run for Circuit Clerk?

After completing a B.A. in Business Administration, I started working for NewellRubbermaid, a Fortune 500 consumer products company.  I began in an entry level sales position in the Chicago area, and was quickly promoted to a sales management position in Pittsburgh. That was my most rewarding management experience, because I was able to take a lower-performing team and turn the staff into national sales award winners, as well as produce a 40% revenue increase.  After such a successful turnaround, I was promoted again to a commercial account manager in Baltimore, working for the Sanford writing instrument division. To this day, I have a lifetime supply of Sharpies in my basement.

After spending my early career in the private sector, I found that I was occupying more and more of my time volunteering. While I found professional fulfillment at NewellRubbermaid, I decided that I needed a shift to feel more personal fulfillment. I moved back to Champaign and began looking for opportunities to put my professional skills to work in a way that benefitted the community. I joined the University of Illinois as the Assistant Director of Development for Student Affairs in 2006. In that role I traveled the country, building relationships with Illinois alumni and securing gifts of $25,000 or more for scholarships, student programs, and centers like the Illinois Leadership Center, the Illini Union, the Counseling Center, the LGBT Resource center, and Women’s Resource Center.  My role grew to include the stewardship of more than 100 different gift accounts, and the management of the Student Affairs annual fund.   I worked with a number of relational databases, and served on committees that sought to improve access to information for campus staff.
While working for the University, I also completed a M.S. degree in Library and Information Science. My graduate work included specific study of information technology project management, the development of online tutorials, the creation of digital archives and preservation of electronic documents, as well as the administration of public information centers.

What sparked your interest in politics?
I think I have always been interested in politics, but I have never been drawn to a particular office until now.  I served as Chair of the Champaign County Young Republicans several years ago, and that experience is what gave me the confidence to seek public office in Champaign County. I have worked on other candidates’ campaigns, but it is an entirely different experience when you are campaigning for yourself!

What are two things you would like to accomplish with your political work?

I would like to bring more awareness of County government to the general public.  I think that the average voter knows a lot about national and state offices, but often the local races can have a greater impact on our daily lives.

I would also like to encourage more young women to seek public office. If you look at our local ballot, there are still very few women listed, and even fewer women under the age of 40. I see no reason why should not be an equal number of men and women in their 30s running for office.
Are there individuals that have inspire(d) you?

I had the opportunity to hear Condoleezza Rice speak at a National Association of Student Personnel Administrators (NASPA) conference a few years ago, and I was blown away. She is so incredibly intelligent, and her grasp of the issues affecting higher education today was spot on. She also had the ability to get a largely Democratic audience to give her a standing ovation.

I have also been influenced by Dr. Eboo Patel, for his work on bringing people of different faiths together in acts of service. His book Acts of Faith inspired me to become a faculty/staff advisor for the Interfaith in Action student organization on campus.  The organization planned huge community service events like “One Million Meals for Haiti”, and provided training for students, faculty and staff on issues of religious diversity. You would be surprised how many people who are well educated on other diversity issues still do not understand the differences between the Sikh and Muslim faiths. As a result of the students’ efforts, the University of Illinois was chosen to participate in the White House Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. 

What’s the best piece of advice you have received?

In terms of the campaign, I think that the best advice I have received was to stay positive and focus entirely on my qualifications for this office. As a result, voters around the county have responded very favorably to me, and I am grateful that we have been able to run such a positive campaign.
Would you say you’re more off a Hilary (Clinton) or Michelle (Obama)? Or is there another female in politics you identify with?

I would say I’m a bit like Hillary in that I would never be content to be only the wife of a public official, and would have to run for office myself at some point. However, I am decidedly anti-pantsuit, so I would never call myself a Hillary. If we are talking first ladies, I think I relate more to Laura Bush. She had a career as a librarian before becoming first lady, and I think I tend to be a little more on the quiet side as well. Unfortunately, I don’t have a female president to compare myself to, but there are a number of female politicians I identify with, such as Illinois Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. Her political career began at the local level, and she went on to become the first female party leader in the state of Illinois.

Why is it so important for voters to head out to the polls?
I think that it is easy to get caught up in the national rhetoric and feel that your vote doesn’t matter. I would say that every vote is incredibly important, especially in those races that are decided purely by popular vote, like the office of Circuit Clerk. Often, the local offices have a greater impact on our daily lives, and choosing the right person for the job is critical. The Office of Circuit manages the court records for Champaign County, and many of the responsibilities have a direct impact on Champaign County families. For example, the processes of filing for adoption, filing for child support, or filing an order of protection are all managed by the Circuit Clerk’s office.
What do your parents and husband think of your new choice in career?

My husband is incredibly supportive, and has been a true partner. He has been my campaign photographer, webmaster, social media expert, and my source of motivation when I would rather sit on the couch.  My parents are proud of me and have been there for every parade, with my dad driving my grandfather’s Model T as a parade vehicle. They have also been the official campaign babysitters, which is an invaluable service.
What has been your favorite event/place to visit on your campaign trail?

One of the things I have enjoyed the most about this campaign has been the opportunity to get to know the County better. I grew up in Champaign, but there are a few areas of the County I had never visited. I loved the Fisher Fair, which had the craziest demolition derby I’ve ever seen (using lawn tractors), and I really enjoyed the I&I Tractor show in Penfield. It gave us a reason to visit dozens of fairs and festivals as a family, and we have really enjoyed it.
Which politician would you love to have dinner with and talk shop?

I would love to talk to Christine Todd Whitman. I have admired her for several years, and I have great respect for her efforts to be moderating influence on the Republican party.
What can we find you doing on a Saturday night?

Well, last night I ran in the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana Stilleto Sprint, which raised money for school supplies for children all over Champaign-Urbana. Before the campaign, you would usually find us out to dinner in Downtown Champaign or making something at home that we wouldn’t have time for on a weeknight, like risotto.  One of the things I have missed most during this campaign is having the time to sit down for a decent meal. I love cooking, and I feel terrible that my poor husband has been eating nothing but sandwiches and fair food for the last few months.  I am promising him months of homemade focaccia and cassoulet after the election. 
What do you think you’ll be doing when you’re 75 years old?

I hope that I will be in a position to be enjoying retirement and spending time with grandchildren, but I’m sure I will still be actively involved in the community, volunteering for church committees and various non-profit organizations.
What is a social issue you’re passionate about?

I would say that domestic violence prevention is an issue I care deeply about. It is actually one of the reasons I am so passionate about implementing electronic filing in Champaign County. If we can reduce the amount of time it takes to process an order of protection, law enforcement officers can begin protecting the citizens who file them much more quickly.
Do you do any community work related to this issue?

I have been a member of the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana since 2005, and there are a number of local organizations that receive grants and volunteers from JLCU, including the Center for Women in Transition. I also raised money for the Women’s Resource Center at the University of Illinois while working for Student Affairs. 

Where are your favorite places to travel?

While in college, I had the opportunity to travel to Scandinavia, and sing in a number of cathedrals in Denmark and Sweden. My mother still has family in Denmark, and it is my favorite overseas spot to travel.

Within the United States, I would have to say Northern California. I used to travel there frequently while working for the University, and I loved food, the people, and the gorgeous redwood trees, and the juxtaposition of city life in San Francisco with country life in Sonoma County, as well as the intellectual capital in Silicon Valley. Surprisingly, it has the second highest concentration of University of Illinois alumni in the country, so there are also quite a few former Midwesterners.
How did you meet your husband TJ? Was it love at first sight?

TJ and I met serving on a committee together. Romantic, right? We were the only two public employees serving on a board that consisted of campus business owners. I was representing the University, and he was representing the City of Champaign.  It actually took us a few months before we had anything other than a work relationship, but after our first date, we spent pretty much every day together.  We were engaged within a year and married shortly after that. Our daughter was born a week before our first anniversary.   
How would you say motherhood has changed you?

I would say it has made me more organized. Before having a child, I used to wonder how the busy moms around me “did it all”.  I honestly think it’s something that just comes with being a parent. You just don’t have the option to slack off when there is a tiny person depending on you for absolutely everything.

I think it has also allowed me to become more focused on my priorities. As someone who is a bit of a perfectionist, I don’t seem to let the little things bother me as much anymore. For example, two years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead with a cake mix in the house, but now it doesn’t seem like such a big deal.
Presidential candidates always pick a theme for their candidacy, usually using a famous artist and song. Which artist would you choose and what song would you choose?

I’m an old school Dolly Parton fan, so maybe something like “Straight Talk”?

Super cheesy, but that’s what my campaign has been all about – holding town hall meetings, being accessible to voters and listening to any of their problems.

Seriously though, if I ever ran for president, I would have to have an intern help me out with that part. I’m hopeless when it comes to popular music, and my iPod is full of things like showtunes and Durufle’s Requiem.

If someone created a building in your honor what type of building would it be?

I would be delighted to have a library named after me. My first words were “Read the book”, and I’ve been an avid reader my entire life. I read an average of 2-3 books a week, though it has slowed down a bit during campaign season. My love of books and organization of information is what attracted me to my graduate program, so to have a library named for me would be an incredible honor.

More Articles