It's Official: Mayor Pete Buttigieg Running for President in 2020
By Patrick M. O'Connell
With a drenching April rain dripping through the cracked roof of a former Studebaker automobile building on the edge of downtown, Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old, openly gay mayor of South Bend, Ind., made it official Sunday afternoon: He's running for president of the United States.
"It is time to walk away from the politics of the past and toward something totally different," Buttigieg said. "That's why I'm here today."
Buttigieg's announcement inside the unheated, soggy Studebaker 84 Building ended the exploratory phase of his campaign for the White House and launched his formal entry into the crowded field for the Democratic nomination in 2020.
The two-term mayor of Indiana's fourth-largest city (population 102,000) had been contemplating a run for months. He raised $7 million by the end of March and, buoyed by well-reviewed appearances on national television, vaulted into the top tier of candidates, so much so that he joked during his presidential announcement speech that he awoke over the weekend to headlines that perhaps he has been rising too quickly.
If he emerges from the increasingly crowded field of Democratic candidates, the former Rhodes scholar and veteran of the war in Afghanistan would become the first openly gay nominee from a major party.
"Let's get to work," he told the cheering, chanting crowd of supporters inside the chilly warehouse. "Let's make history!"
Buttigieg, a South Bend native, announced in January that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee. He has been traveling to states that will be among the first to vote on the Democratic nominees during the opening months of 2020. His robust fundraising power also makes it likely he will qualify for the Democratic National Committee's debates this summer, which will be held in June and July.
Several thousand supporters packed the old, partially remodeled Studebaker building on the south edge of downtown chanting, "Let's go, Pete!" People lined up in the rain to buy "Pete 2020" T-shirts, caps and buttons. In a nod to his hard-to-pronounce last name, some supporters wore "Boot Edge Edge" T-shirts.
"I'm ready for change," said Mondesi Walters, a 23-year-old who came to South Bend for college and decided to stay. "This country needs some more acceptance and someone who loves and sees where tolerance gets us. He can grasp the hopes of a whole spectrum of people."
The setting for Buttigieg's announcement was perhaps fitting for the mayor: He is credited with helping South Bend, an industrial hub and the former headquarters of the famous but now-defunct Studebaker automobile brand, reimagine itself and look to the future. Buttigieg's presidential announcement locale was also full of symbolism. While South Bend is known as the home of the University of Notre Dame, which technically is located just outside city limits, Buttigieg's presidential announcement was held in the Studebaker building, near police headquarters, railroad tracks and the city's remodeled minor league baseball stadium.
Wearing a crisp white shirt, a blue tie and no suit jacket, Buttigieg strode to the podium and highlighted his youth and experience leading a Midwestern city. He said there is "a myth being sold to industrial and rural areas" of the country and that "resentment and nostalgia" is not the way forward.
"This is not just about winning an election," he said. "This is about winning an era."
Revitalizing the industrial heartland, Buttigieg said, is about looking to the future and re-imagining what jobs and middle class work will look like in years to come. He also touted his military experience, saying that when you're serving, people do not care about your politics or who your partner is, just that you can lead others smartly and safely.
"I believe in American greatness," he told the crowd. "I believe in American values. And I believe that we can guide this country, and one another, to a better place."
Buttigieg did not mention President Donald Trump by name during his speech, but he did say that it is time for a different chapter and tone in Washington.
"When something is grotesque, it's hard to look away. And the horror show in Washington is mesmerizing, it's all-consuming," Buttigieg said. "But starting today, we're going to change the channel."
In his speech, Buttigieg emphasized what he called the three main principles of his campaign: freedom, security and democracy. He listed health care, consumer protections, racial justice, empowering teachers, women's equality and organized labor as freedoms. Then he said freedoms also include the right to marry whomever you choose.
For his security plank, Buttigieg said that young immigrants are not a threat to the country, and he emphasized the need for cybersecurity and election security but mainly focused on the threat that climate change poses to the world.
"If you don't like our plan on climate," he said, "fine, show us yours."
That focus on climate change, and on an open-minded approach to policy and politics, is what struck a chord with Dennis Hughes, who drove from Chicago to see the speech.
"It's the way he talks," said Hughes, 33, a Notre Dame graduate who lives in Noble Square and is expecting his first child. "It's a new vocabulary we need in our politics."
Buttigieg talked about what it was like to grow up as a teenager, unsure of himself, his future and his place in the world. He told the crowd that if he could go back in time and speak to his teenage self, he would tell him that he would see the world, serve his country and "that he would not only find belonging in his hometown but be entrusted by its citizens for the duty of leading and shaping it."
"That he would be all right, more than all right. ... To tell him," Buttigieg said, "that on that day when he announces his campaign for president, that he will do it with his husband looking on."
At the end of his speech, his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, appeared on the stage and the two smiled widely as they walked toward one another, the crowd waving tiny, handheld American flags. Buttigieg then kissed his husband and the two embraced.
The Buttigiegs married last summer and the couple lives in South Bend with their two dogs, Truman and Buddy. Buttigieg served as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve and did a tour in Afghanistan in 2014. His parents both worked at Notre Dame. Buttigieg graduated from Harvard.
Last August, Buttigieg spoke at the Illinois Democratic Party's annual brunch at the Illinois State Fair. The young mayor replaced former Vice President Joe Biden, who had laryngitis. Buttigieg's speech focused on national politics and criticism of Trump, though he did take a shot at then-Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner for his praise of Vice President Mike Pence, saying at the time, "You're from Illinois. You produced Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama, and you think Mike Pence is one of the greatest leaders in American history? I cannot wait to see a new governor in the state of Illinois."
Back in South Bend, before he gave his speech to the crowd gathered inside the warehouse, Buttigieg briefly appeared outside in the driving rainstorm to address the overflow crowd assembled in the parking lot. For those who could not make it inside the warehouse, a large television screen with the logo "20 Pete 20" was set up in the parking lot. People in hooded coats huddled under colorful umbrellas to watch.
Buttigieg called running for higher office to be "an act of hope," saying he was moved by those gathered, which he called "a generational alliance."
"We are in this together," he said.
Hughes said watching couples of all types -- same-sex and heterosexual, men and women of all ages -- listen to Buttigieg nearly brought him to tears.
"It's just, like, a beautiful thing," Hughes said.
Standing under an umbrella was John Joanette, 55, of Detroit, who overcame car trouble to make it to Indiana. He said he had to rent a car in order to make the drive from Michigan, but nothing was going to deter him from seeing "Mayor Pete."
"He is the perfect foil in this campaign, made to go up against the person who currently occupies the White House," Joanette said. "He's the anti in every way, shape and form. His value system is the complete opposite of our president."
(c)2019 the Chicago Tribune