People

A conversation with the former Charlottean who became Obama’s personal aide

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Reggie Love moved to Charlotte before he turned 1, grew up around University City, played basketball and football at Providence Day School and did the same at Duke.

He started working for a young senator from Illinois named Barack Obama in 2006. He served as President Obama’s special assistant and personal aide until 2011, when he left to go to the Wharton School of Business. Now he lives in Washington, D.C. and serves as partner and vice president of RON Transatlantic Advisors.

Love has lived a lot in his 34 years. He wrote about his experiences in his book “Power Forward: My Presidential Education.” He returned to Charlotte this week to talk to his alma mater. Later, I talked to him on the phone for about 30 minutes about working at the White House to basketball to what he thinks about Charlotte now.

(Mike McCarn / MMP)
(Mike McCarn / MMP)

The conversation has been minimally edited for clarity and length.

In school, were you interested in politics? Did you ever see yourself working at the White House?

You know, I was more of a sports guy growing up. I always thought I was going to be the next Antawn Jamison. Unfortunately I never grew up to be 6-9.

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You played on Duke’s 2001 national championship basketball team. What’s Coach K really like?

I think Coach K was the original straight shooter. Never sugar coated anything. Always expressed everything how he saw it and was a big believer in meritocracy. If you worked hard … you’d get a chance.

How did you end up working for then-Sen. Obama? Why were you drawn to him?

I read “Dreams from My Father” … and, you know, I think what he wrote about really spoke to me. In terms of identity and race and the cultural blending of America. And I think when I met him, I think one of the biggest things I took away from him is he was always more focused on how to be a good leader … and was never too concerned about whether he was going to be reelected. … “I’m just going to do the right thing.” He stayed true to that over the years.

I’m not sure there is a “normal” day in the White House, but what were your days like in the White House?

Every day was different, right? … One day you’d be at a military base in Afghanistan and the next day you’d be at a holiday party with 535 members of Congress. … In my office I’d have a tuxedo and sneakers.

How would you describe your relationship with the president? Friend? Boss?

More like an older brother or sibling, a mentor. I feel like he was always sort of taking me under his wing. Whenever there was something that didn’t make apparent sense to me and he would always take the time to explain it to me.

When you spend as much time on a presidential campaign … 15 to 20 hours a day (it’s like) Stockholm Syndrome … just because you spend so much time together you either grow a very close bond or you kill one another.

I know you played basketball with him. Did you feel like you had to let him win?

No. Never. He’s a terrible, terrible winner. He talks a bunch of trash. He’s the biggest trash talker. Not that he’s a bad winner, that he doesn’t know how to win graciously … (but) he’ll let you know about his winning.

Reggie Love_01
President Barack Obama plays basketball with personal aide Reggie Love at St. Bartholomew's (St. Bart's) Church in New York City, during downtime, Sept. 23, 2009.

Is there a TV show that most accurately represents what working at the White House is really like?

I’ve only watched “The West Wing.”

Is it like “The West Wing”?

It’s a little dated. People are still sending faxes in “The West Wing.”

Was it hard to make the transition from working at the White House to going back to school?

Not really. Of course I miss Air Force One. It’s the best way to travel. You never have delays. You never miss the plane. … I always had the mindset that this doesn’t go on forever.

Why did you want to write the book?

When I moved to D.C. 10 years ago and was working and I got a job as a personal assistant and as an aide, there wasn’t a lot of content out there. I thought there were lessons that I learned … that I thought people would have found interesting.

(Mike McCarn / MMP)
(Mike McCarn / MMP)

How often do you come back to Charlotte? What do you like to do around town?

As much as I can. I love the Panthers, I love the Hornets. I’m on the board at Providence Day. I’m a trustee there. Plaza Midwood and all these places, these neighborhoods that are springing up all over the place warm my heart. Places people never used to go and now they’re hip and trendy.

Photos: The White House; Mike McCarn; Charlotte Observer file

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