Amid 2020 Speculation, South Bend Mayor Won't Seek Another Term

Pete Buttigieg is ending his tenure as the city's mayor, announcing today that he will not seek a third term in office but not yet revealing his future political plans -- including a possible run for president.
by | December 17, 2018 AT 5:00 PM

By Jeff Parrott

Pete Buttigieg is ending his tenure as the city's mayor, announcing today that he will not seek a third term in office but not yet revealing his future political plans -- including a possible run for president.

His decision sets off a scramble  among several elected and political officials who will try to position themselves to win next year's mayoral election.

Buttigieg will serve one more year, 2019, before capping a two-term South Bend mayoral career that began with his beating out a crowded field at age 29 and becoming the youngest mayor of a city with more than 100,000 residents.

Now 36, Buttigieg wouldn't say what he would do next at a news conference today to announce his decision -- he replied "nope" when asked if he would comment about a run for president.

But his star has risen nationally in the last two years. National media outlets for months have speculated about Buttigieg running for president, and he has stoked the talk by carving a political path that points to a run for higher office.

Buttigieg, at his news conference, surrounded by his cabinet members and husband Chasten Glezman, called the job of mayor "the great honor of my life."

"For most of the decade now, I have given everything that I can to helping this city get to a new future. And I love this job," he said. "And I'm mindful that it may well be the best job that I will ever have. But it's also not the kind of job you do forever."

He said it's important to recognize "when it's time to get ready to move on."

"A city needs a fresh start from time to time," Buttigieg said.

He wouldn't commit to endorsing a candidate to succeed him as mayor, or becoming involved in the race at all, but said he would look for someone who understands the challenge of "holding a community together while driving real results and making necessary change. And also someone who understands that this office represents not a title, not an achievement, but the opportunity to do good work for our hometown."

Buttigieg added that he would remain fully committed to his job until his last day in office.

"Residents can continue to expect us to work hard," he said.

 

High achiever

Buttigieg was born and raised in South Bend, the only child of University of Notre Dame English professors Joseph A. Buttigieg, who emigrated from the island nation of Malta, and Jennifer Anne Montgomery, a Southern Indiana native. He grew up in the North Shore Triangle neighborhood, where he still lives.

Buttigieg was a high achiever with an interest in politics early on, graduating from St. Joseph High School in 2000 as class president and valedictorian. As a senior, his essay on Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, then a relatively obscure political figure nationally, won the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum's Profile in Courage Essay Contest.

He earned a bachelor's degree in history and literature from Harvard University and won a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford, where in 2007 he earned a degree in philosophy, politics and economics, with a concentration in economics. From there he went to work at the Chicago office of McKinsey & Co., a global business consulting firm, work that took him around the country and the world, including to Iraq and Afghanistan.

In 2010, at age 28, he quit his McKinsey job to enter politics as the Indiana Democratic Party's nominee for state treasurer, a race he lost by a wide margin to incumbent Republican Richard Mourdock.

A month later, South Bend Mayor Stephen Luecke, whom Buttigieg had once job-shadowed for a day, announced he wouldn't seek re-election after several years in office. Buttigieg threw his hat into what would become a crowded field of Democrats.

He raised far more campaign money than his opponents, picking up endorsements from the Chamber of Commerce and other groups, and won the May 2011 Democratic primary decisively. He beat out then-St. Joseph County Council member Mike Hamann, State Rep. Ryan Dvorak and Barrett Berry before cruising to an easy win in the the general election.

One of his first goals after taking office was to launch an initiative to repair or demolish 1,000 homes in 1,000 days. His administration hit that mark in September 2015, 62 days ahead of schedule, demolishing 512 houses and repairing 378.

Also during that time, Buttigieg found himself embroiled in the city's police tapes controversy when he refused to comply with the Common Council's subpoena of recordings of conversations occurring on police department phone lines. He said he first wanted a court to ensure the recordings didn't violate the law. That saga is still pending in court, costing the city hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

In what might be one of the most visible aspects of his legacy, Buttigieg in 2014 launched Smart Streets, a $21 million project aimed at making the downtown more pedestrian-friendly and conducive to retail and housing growth. He slowed traffic by narrowing streets, adding pavers, new trees and designated bike lanes, and converting one-way streets to two-way. He has credited the changes with spurring private development downtown.

During his tenure, several downtown buildings -- including the former Chase Tower, the LaSalle Hotel and the JMS building -- have been redeveloped, joining a series of new developments, such as the Ivy at Berlin Place adjacent to Four Winds Field.

Many residents, however, still complain that the traffic changes cause congestion at peak travel times.

While leading a resurgence of the downtown, Buttigieg has also tried to address crime in neighborhoods. In the fall of 2013, the police department bought Shotspotter, a system that uses special microphones and GPS to triangulate the location of gunshots.

As gang- or group-related shootings were rising, the city in May 2014 implemented a Group Violence Intervention initiative, based on a model developed by John Jay College, in which police partner with community organizations to connect at-risk men with jobs and education.

In April 2014, Buttigieg, an intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy Reserve, was deployed to Afghanistan. City Controller Mark Neal served as deputy mayor until Buttigieg returned in October.

Buttigieg's personal life became public in June 2015, five months before he was up for re-election, when he came out as gay in an essay on The Tribune's opinion page. The move made him the state's highest openly gay elected official. In November 2015, he easily won re-election.

Meanwhile, Buttigieg was beginning to develop a profile beyond Indiana. In March 2014, the Washington Post published a profile piece on him, "The most interesting mayor you've never heard of." In an interview with The New Yorker, Barack Obama in November 2016 mentioned Buttigieg as someone with promise as a young leader in the Democratic Party.

A year later, in the fall of 2017, Obama invited Buttigieg to a meeting, one of a series of brainstorming sessions the former president held with more than a dozen Democrats to discuss potential 2020 presidential candidacies.

In recent years, the issue of homelessness has challenged the mayor's administration. In the falls and winters of 2016 and 2017, the homeless set up encampments under the Main Street viaduct. Under pressure from downtown businesses to remove the encampments, Buttigieg has done so with Code Enforcement clean-outs, but not before providing city funding to Hope Ministries to create overnight-only Weather Amnesty shelters.

Buttigieg also convened a working group to identify solutions and earmarked more city money for a gateway or intake center -- yet to be established -- and permanent supportive housing, both at the Oliver Apartments and in rental units scattered elsewhere.

Earlier this year, a survey found that residents wanted safer, better-looking neighborhoods and improved maintenance of streets, curbs and sidewalks, with only 13 percent saying the city is a safe community for everyone. The takeaway from that survey, Buttigieg said in August, was that his administration needed to work more on neighborhoods. His budget for next year includes more funding for curbs and sidewalks, lead paint removal and exterior home repairs.

Buttigieg's national political aspirations took another turn in January 2017, when he announced he would run for chair of the Democratic National Committee. He entered the race late and never attracted enough support, but he collected endorsements from some notable figures, including nine mayors and three former DNC chairs.

As his star has risen nationally, Buttigieg has become a sought-after event speaker, more than doubling his travel in 2016-2017 compared to 2012-2013, his first two years in office, a Tribune analysis found.

(c)2018 the South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Ind.)