Of the more than 20 individuals running for president, Pete Buttigieg has stood out among voters a top choice for the 2020 Democratic nomination. As the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, he has largely run on a platform of bringing the Democratic Party back in touch with the rural and Midwestern voters that it lost in 2016 to President Donald Trump. On his website, he emphasizes ideas of inclusion in order to “to secure a future in which every American has the freedom to live a life of their choosing.”
Speaking as a Hoosier, it’s refreshing to see someone from the Midwest actively trying to bring rural voters’ big issues into the mainstream. As mayor, he focused on using the justice system to combat the destructive actions of opioid companies, demonstrating how he has dealt with these problems as an executive. However, Buttigieg’s career has been problematic. Many of his actions as mayor have shown that he doesn’t understand the issues of people of color and doesn’t know how to see a situation through their eyes.
In 2012, Buttigieg fired South Bend’s black police chief after he taped white officers using racist language while keeping the offending officers on the force. By prioritizing the taping issue over the clear racial bigotry in the police department, Buttigieg displayed that his prime concern was preventing legal trouble over maintaining a non-discriminatory police force. In addition, his actions showed his failure to stand up against institutional racism and for the protection of black communities.
As mayor of South Bend, Buttigieg also tried to solve the epidemic of abandoned houses, a growing problem in the Midwest. He proposed the idea of repairing or demolishing 1,000 houses in under 1,000 days. Much of this process was done through data-driven operations, and as a result, was criticized as being devoid of human touch. Buttigieg’s work in solving this situation created the expected result of rising housing prices in the area, gentrifying many parts of the black and Latine communities in South Bend.
The mayor’s work in the “1,000 houses in 1,000 days” campaign establishes a lack of understanding of marginalized communities, as well as an inability to communicate with these communities on issues. The consequences of mass gentrification in South Bend show how a focus on data over human interaction would be catastrophic when applied nationwide. Buttigieg addressed the controversy of the program, saying, “you also need to acknowledge, from the get-go, that you might be wrong.” Nevertheless, he claimed the program was “certainly a success.”
The situation with the police department and his solution for vacant housing show that Buttigieg clearly does not understand how people of color live and interact in their own communities, nor is he willing to listen to them. He aims to solve issues without considering drastic consequences like gentrification.
Buttigieg claims that he stands for Midwestern values and protecting rural voters, and it is important that these ideas be brought to attention at the national level. His time as mayor of South Bend, however, shows that the values he aims to represent are specifically white Midwestern values, rather than those of the entire community. In order to be a successful Democratic candidate, he must acknowledge his past mistakes and propose racially sensitive solutions. Otherwise, as president, he would only exacerbate the deep-rooted racial issues in the United States.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, May 6, 2019, print edition. Email Jun Sung at [email protected]