I’ve spent the past few months collecting and analyzing political emails on my blog, But Their Emails! I’ve created new email addresses and donated to 22 Presidential campaigns. My spreadsheet tracker hit Google’s cell limit. I have immersed myself in the political world this year.
On September 8, Chasten Buttigieg emailed me, inviting me to a South Bend fundraiser for his husband, Democratic Presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, on Wednesday, September 18. Ticket prices began at $250 and went all the way up to $2,800. This was one of those high-dollar fundraisers that some of the candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren warned me about.
Of course, I had to go. It was within an hour of where I lived. I was curious.
But $250 was a steep price.
Like the Cha-stans #TeamPete is, the moment I mentioned Chasten wanted $250 from me on my Twitter, my readers stepped up and bought me a ticket with 24 small-dollar donations. I was set to go! Go and report back on the bribery and corruption that occurs at these high-dollar fundraisers! Surely something sketchy had to occur, in order for them to be so threatening.
Of course, in his home town of South Bend, whiskey aficionado Pete Buttigieg would hold a fundraiser in a swanky whiskey bar. The Exchange boasted more than 300 whiskeys.
Being the non-drinker that I am, this had less of a draw for me, but it was also located inside a former bank building. I’m a sucker for old buildings and preserved architecture.
I brought a red leather jacket with me, but the temperature was about 81°F in the shade. I kept it in my bag up until I stepped through the first set of doors for The Exchange. I was immediately blasted by air so frigid that I didn’t even go through the second doors: I put down my bag and pulled on my coat! Once properly equipped, in I went.
Unfortunately,The Exchange subscribed to the “low lighting is sexy” school of thought, and it was difficult to get good pictures of the interior. It was very lovely, though, with marble details and old-fashioned armchairs everywhere. I went to the bar, where a woman in a blue dress was talking animatedly to one of the bartenders. After ordering a virgin rum and Coke, I listened in. Proud of him? Glad he was representing them? “Are you here for Pete?” I asked.
Of course she was.
Of course they all were. As more and more people filtered in, we moved to the back. It seemed like the back was the entrance to The Vault, the private banquet room that would be the real home of the event.
Thankfully, there was free wi-fi. Didn’t even need a password.
Emily Voorde was the most noticeable staffer to arrive, standing out in the crowd. As far as I am aware, she is also the only campaign staffer with an obvious physical disability out of all the presidential campaigns.
The staffers congregated in the back, around a frosted glass door. Clearly, this was the Important Place. A child had already been snuck in through a side door and into The Vault with her dad: she was 9, and The Exchange was a bar, after all.
Note to self: bring a child to next event at a bar.
Staff went in and out, and when the door was open, there were tantalizing glimpses of the PFA background.
Everyone was milling around with excitement. Most of them had some sort of Pete button or sticker on: Pete Pride, Women for Pete, BUTTIGIEG…
Once we were allowed in, two staffers at the door were checking our names off electronic lists on their phones. Directly in front of us was a table spread with buttons and stickers. “Help yourself!” staffers exclaimed. “Though… just one button, please!”
I took a Trans Pride button for Pete. This is for you, Jack!
There were a handful of standing tables dotted around the room and a bar near the entrance. An alcove on the side later proved to lead to bathrooms.
The Vault was much warmer than The Exchange. This would later become an issue.
There were no tables close to the stage, and big pillars blocking the view from some angles. One of my readers, Georganna, and I staked out the closest table off to the side, giving us an unobstructed view.
While the room was empty.
In the back corner was the actual, original bank vault. I did not approach. I wasn’t sure if the area back there was some sort of staging area, and I didn’t want to go somewhere I shouldn’t be.
It was still a very heavy door. I bet that’s where they kept all the big checks.
Servers started circling with trays of hors d’oeuvres. Immediately, my corruption senses began tingling.
That’s why a few of our opponents are spending most of the weekend hopping from one high-dollar fundraiser to the next; holding expensive hors d’oeuvres with one hand while gobbling up fat checks with the other. Over and over again.
— Faiz Shakir, Campaign Manager, Bernie 2020
This email of Sanders’ was from the end of June, but I’m sure the corruption was the same. I decided to attempt to be a candidate. The first tray that passed, with veggie tarts, I accepted one. I immediately had to request a napkin to contain the flaky pastry. How was I supposed to gobble up a fat check if both my hands were full!?
One excellent server agreed to let me photograph the bribery from politician to wealthy donors. Look at those individual shrimp cups! Disgraceful. (They were very good.)
Veggie tarts. Shrimp cocktails. Crab cakes. Little rolled up things. All of these hors d’oeuvres were free to me, a wealthy donor. No one asked if I was a $250 donor or a $2,800 donor. In fact, what I got asked the most was my name, and how I learned about Mayor Pete.
That’s right. These mega donors were all enjoying themselves, grinning, laughing, introducing themselves to perfect strangers and old friends, sharing stories about Pete and why they loved him.
The crowd was picking up, and the noise level was climbing. Those high ceilings were beautiful, but not acoustically pleasing. With the crowd also came body heat. Accumulated heat. Georganna rescued me by fetching another virgin rum and Coke from the bar for me.
A staffer came around collecting things we wanted signed. I wrote my name on a BTE card and tucked it into my copy of Shortest Way Home while Georganna attempted to butter the staffer up with a bribe. He hesitated, but no. No, he couldn’t accept.
She offered me the bribe as well.
My ethics were not as strong as the Pete for America staffer collecting books.
Breana Micou, South Bend Organizer for Pete, came over to the table with her sister, @AJ_Indiana. Also with us was Ellen Marks, running for Congress in Indiana’s 2nd District (South Bend’s district), and her Finance Director, Kimberly. Ellen dressed in purple to match her campaign colors, which I can absolutely approve of. She and Kimberly were very interested in campaign emails. I highly encourage my readers who enjoy throwing their money around to go to her campaign website, linked above, and throw her some cash to unseat Republican Jackie Walorski!
The room was growing warmer and warmer. Georganna shed her jacket, but the attire was business casual, and beneath my snazzy leather jacket was just a t-shirt. A Mayor Pete’s Explorer’s Club t-shirt from those early days of his campaign, but still, just a t-shirt. One Coke was not enough to offset the building heat, so I took Georganna’s drink order (and her money) and headed toward the bar.
Yes. Money. Because in this high-dollar donor fundraiser, it was not an open bar. Soft drinks were $2 each. Bottled water, it would turn out, was $1 each. And I had used the last of my cash at the bar outside with my first virgin rum and Coke.
There wasn’t so much a line as a light crush. I wove through the crowd, trying to avoid running into people, trying to judge the people who were just talking and the people who were at the bar waiting for a drink. There was a short man in a blue jacket who looked like Chasten Buttigieg, but snazzified. Next to him was a man in a white button down shirt and a blue tie. For some reason, they had their arms around a third person and another person had a camera and HOLY CRAP I NEARLY WALKED STRAIGHT INTO THE BUTTIGIEGS.
They were smiling and laughing, their picture was done and they both turned to me.
Pete Buttigieg’s eyes are VERY intense when he’s looking at you. And his handshake is firm. (Maybe a touch too firm. Not like squeeze your hand off that some guys do, but just… tight. But only for a moment. It wasn’t too long.)
Pete complimented me on my “vintage” t-shirt. I think I thanked him. I told him that I was a political blogger about presidential candidate emails, and Chasten wrote the best emails. I looked at Chasten. His smile is blinding. He thanked me. I told Pete his supporters had raised the money to send me here, and Pete’s smile grew a little bigger and he declared that awesome. I handed Chasten my card, and he said “Oh, I’ve heard of this!” (Or maybe he said he’d read it?) I thanked them, they thanked me, a woman who was controlling the crowd around them thanked me and urged them on, and I turned to the left to get in the drink line.
That’s when I started trembling. Just a little. THAT HAD JUST HAPPENED, AND I HADN’T COMPLETELY BOTCHED IT.
I did botch the drink order. You don’t pay by putting the money in the tip jar, and the bartender looks VERY confused if you pull money out of the tip jar to pay.
Two bottles of cold water later, I scurried back to Georganna. “I JUST LITERALLY RAN INTO MAYOR PETE.”
She bemoaned the fact that she let me go to get the drinks this time.
As people realized that Pete was in the room, the crowd started to congregate around him. He and Chasten worked through them effortlessly, shaking hands, taking pictures, smiling and laughing and genuinely enjoying themselves. Georganna left to get better pictures with them, while I stayed and took pictures from the sidelines like a creeper.
Eventually, they made their way to the stage.
Kareemah Fowler, former South Bend City Clerk and now CFO of the South Bend school district, took to the stage first to open the event. She spoke of the need for a visionary. Someone with integrity and bold leadership, who was not afraid of the challenges ahead. Someone who sought sustainable outcomes, and not quick fixes to appease the current bottom line. She spoke about how as Mayor, and as her friend, Pete cultivated a culture of resilience, self-love, and acceptance (especially once Chasten entered the picture).
In my lifetime, I have not met or seen a more thoughtful or hardworking person.
— Kareemah Fowler
Kareemah introduced Chasten, who explained that before their lives became crazy, Wednesday nights were date nights.
So… welcome to date night on a Presidential campaign.
— Chasten Buttigieg
He began by thanking South Bend for supporting and loving Pete, for supporting and loving Pete and himself, and for supporting and loving himself. It wasn’t easy coming to South Bend when he was dating the mayor, but while Pete made it easy, South Bend made it easy too.
Chasten said we were all part of something very special. He admitted to his nervousness when this all began, when he stepped away from the classroom he loved to become a candidate’s spouse. He loves inspiring children to believe in themselves. It’s the best part of being a teacher.
But he learned, on the road, that so many people in this country have given up on hope. They’ve given up on their belief in this country and in themselves.
And so, on the campaign trail, Chasten gets to be a teacher again, inspiring people to believe in themselves again. Spreading a message of hopeful politics. Positive politics.
The very best part of this, he said, was doing it alongside someone he loved.
He joked about how most politicians are absolute liars. They always say they’re doing just fine, when the reality is that politicians are exhausted from the trail. The hours, the travel, the bad airport food… campaigning is exhausting.
But people deserve to feel inspired and hopeful. They deserve that. And something about Pete’s campaign makes them feel that way. They feel welcomed by the campaign, and feel hopeful about it.
Chasten thanked us again, emphatically, for being part of the project that was doing this. Inspiring hope all across America. He wished he could pack us all up and take us with him, so we can see the look in people’s eyes when they start to believe again.
He also thanked us for what we’ve done for him and Pete as a couple, not just by donating to the campaign, but also things like dropping off food when they’re in town, or being able to run over and put their trash out when they forgot.
The best part about introducing Pete, Chasten then continued, was that you didn’t have to lie. He pointed out we’d all heard introductions like that before, where it’s clear the presenter is just buttering up the next speaker. He interrupted himself with a laugh. The worst part was going through his resume: “We get it, he’s smart, he’s great!” But here, he didn’t have to go through Pete’s resume, because the people of South Bend already knew him.
The real best part about introducing Pete, Chasten confided, was getting to embarrass him.
Pete made me believe in myself too.
— Chasten Buttigieg
When Chasten first met Pete, he said, he was in a rough place. He had given up on love completely. He was convinced it would never be for him. But there was this cute guy he agreed to meet. They had dinner, and after dinner, Pete slyly slid two tickets to a South Bend Cubs game out of his pocket.
Every single day with Pete makes me feel seen and loved. I am so lucky to have him as my husband… aww… got mushy there, we’ll bring it in.
— Chasten Buttigieg
Not wanting to cry, Chasten got back on track. America deserves a President like Pete!
The crowd erupted into cheers as Pete took the stage.
In true Pete form, he praised Chasten, saying he was a hard act to follow and saying that Chasten doesn’t get nearly enough credit for what he had to give up to join Pete on this adventure.
Pete’s stump speech isn’t so required in his hometown, and instead, he began by admitting he did events like this one 1–5 times a day these days. And the most incredible thing, he said, was the connections people claimed to have. Not just connections to Pete and Chasten (oh, my friend’s uncle’s sister’s cousin was at school with you!), but connections to South Bend. To the residents of South Bend. Any connection people could make to South Bend to Pete, they did, because South Bend was such an integral part of Pete’s story.
Labor Day, Pete said, causes a noticeable shift in the political calendar. The energy changes. It’s like going back to school. And he’s seeing it everywhere as he travels around the country, though especially in Iowa and New Hampshire, telling his story. Telling the country’s story (as he sees it). Telling South Bend’s story. He’s trying to shift the conversation around politics to the every day. To what people actually live. And the story of South Bend is particularly poignant here. It is a story of a city almost broken. A city that began building in a new direction, coming back to life, feeling with hope. And here in South Bend, he pointed out, we are actually living the same problems as most Americans. He doesn’t need to go to a focus group to learn about the problems, he just has to go to South Bend’s Target!
And so he tells his story and spreads the hope. Because the country, slow and stumbling though it may be, has made immense progress in his short lifetime. Progress he literally could not live without.
He spoke, however, of the horrible things he gets asked. A 12-year-old girl asked him about health insurance. He was taken aback, thinking at first maybe she was just a policy geek, until it came out that she had diabetes and didn’t know how she’d have coverage for the insulin she needed if something ever happened to her parents’ health insurance. A 13-year-old boy from Sandy Hook asked Pete with tears in his eyes what actions he would take on curbing gun violence.
Pete wants to challenge the political beliefs that you can either bring the country together or you can sally forth with bold ideas. He doesn’t believe it’s an either/or situation. In fact, not only is it possible to do both, it is necessary to do both.
Pete blamed his Midwest practicality for wanting a health care plan that would unite all of America instead of terrifying half of it. He wants to use the values that used to be used to divide us to instead bring us together.
Faith, for example. Faith that instructs you to clothe the naked, feed the hungry, and help the stranger does not mean you need to condone or support what is going on in the current White House. Pete instead wanted to invite America to picture an EPA that actually protects the environment. A Secretary of Education who actually believes in public education.
He wants us to picture him on stage next to Trump. Because with him as a candidate, when Trump starts yammering on about socialism… Pete cut his teeth in the private sector. He partnered with the private sector to bring about great success in South Bend. Socialism doesn’t stick.
And when Trump goes on about his military parades and bluster… Pete reminded us that while Trump was getting ready to film season 7 of Celebrity Apprentice, Pete himself was getting ready to deploy to Afghanistan to fight on the behest of a President.
Pete invited us to picture an administration which, when you caught news about it while flipping through channels, caused your blood pressure to go down instead of up.
And this is a winning message, he said. They’re seeing it across all of America. Truman and Buddy, his dogs, have more Twitter followers now than Pete himself did when he first launched his exploratory committee.
It may be worth noting that he says Truman first. Buddy is the popular one-eyed puggle who gets most of the love, but Truman is his shy big brother.
We, the rich donors, are helping him build the ground teams that will continue to spread his message. And he, he said with a little chuckle, is definitely doing his part for increasing job growth in South Bend.
Polls will come and go, Pete said. He isn’t worried about them, not at this stage in the campaign. He then laughed again. On some days, he admitted, he may say that the polls aren’t that interesting or worth paying attention to, but on other days, like today, when the polls are saying he’s coming up on 3rd place in Iowa…
The room laughed and cheered along with his success.
Today looks pretty bleak, Pete said, launching into his conclusion, but he knows we’ll look back on this and be proud. We’ll look back and say that in 2020, we said No More.
No more economy where GDP goes up and life expectancy goes down. In 2020, we started creating an economy that works for all of us.
No more senseless gun violence. In 2020, we will have done something to curb the epidemic.
Pete and his campaign are feeling good about their chances. They just need to do the work.
And with that, Pete concluded his speech and offered to “have a conversation.” Not take questions, I noted, though that’s what it was. Have a conversation. A back and forth.
The first question was about the shortage of mental health professionals, spoken by a woman who was wrestling with mental health issues herself. She was lucky enough to have a loving husband who would force her out of the bed each day and get dressed, but her earliest possible appointment was in 6 weeks. Her husband supported her until that point, but not everyone has that support system. How would Pete incentivize students going into the mental health profession?
The most important thing, Pete answered, the most important, is to break the silence of mental health. He thanked the woman who spoke up for doing just that.
He then launched into his solutions: he wants mental health checkups to be as routine and affordable as a physical checkup, and he wants to increase the amount of school psychology experts, so it’s as ubiquitous as a school nurse. But first, he repeated, we must be comfortable talking about mental health.
There were two main pillars to doing this. First, he wanted to bring up the rates of compensation. Part of the problem is that mental health providers don’t get paid the same as doctors, but they have to get their PhD all the same. If mental health doctors were paid like physical doctors, the field wouldn’t be so difficult.
Secondly, Pete wanted to add incentives to education, both by leveraging his National Service plan to have students helping with people recovering and struggling with addiction to start learning about the field, and also by expanding the forgiving of student loans for service, but stretching the definition of service to include things like serving underserved communities that need this sort of help.
There was a problem of belonging, Pete said, and a it’s a problem that can’t be solved by the federal government in Washington. What the government could do was provide federal funds that local communities could tap into to deal with the specific local concerns of their area. Instead of Washington prescribing a cure, they could simply open the ability for communities to fix themselves.
The second question was complimenting Pete for showing what being a level-headed adult looked like and asking him both how did he manage to do that now and how would he continue to do that. Pete answered that the most important thing was to be married to someone who wouldn’t let you be someone else. Chasten made sure he stayed that person.
In politics, Pete said, everyone is telling you who you should be. You should be what America needs you to be, not what everyone wants you to be.
Relationships keep him grounded, relationships with people who will love him no matter what. From Truman and Buddy, who honestly don’t care at all that he might be President, to the people in South Bend who let life be just a little more normal when he’s here, his relationships are important.
He had a few minutes to himself earlier today, Pete said, so he went to The General (a local cafe) and grabbed a cup of coffee. And there, in that moment, he could have been just anyone. All they wanted to know was if he wanted a cup of coffee and for him to not forget to pay.
This whole endeavor was too important. Pete couldn’t not give it everything he’s got. But he makes sure he has people around him to keep him grounded.
A 9-year-old, the one who snuck in through the bar earlier, was the next to ask a question. Scientists say that in about 30 years, global warming will make this planet very difficult to live in. What will he do to prevent it?
Pete spoke directly to the little girl, explaining that this was a very important issue. Every year, the scientists said it would be harder and harder to live on this planet. He explained how there were 2 huge floods in South Bend, the sort that should only happen every few hundred years, and they both happened while he was mayor (and he had not been mayor for 100 years, he reminded us). There will be more storms and maybe even less oxygen.
Maybe you’ll be running for President, or Senate, or the House in 30 years, Pete said. The point is, you’ll still be here! And so will I!
I’ll be 69. 8? 7? Old enough to have to think about it!
— Pete Buttigieg
They’ll both want a planet they can live in. So what he’ll do now is start by investing in energy that doesn’t pollute. Solar and wind and maybe even energy that hasn’t been developed yet. He’d invest $20 billion a year into federal research for clean energy.
He would also let everyone know how they can help so it feels like a big project we’re working on together, and not a big problem we’re all contributing to. He talked about how farmers could be part of the solution by doing things like planting crops that can pull carbon out of the air, but the government would need to fund farmers for that. And even industries that are currently causing problems, like the car industries, can instead be causing solutions.
Students can help too, Pete told the girl. The climate corps he wants to create, for example, would give students the opportunity to help people fix up their houses to be more efficient.
In 2050, Pete promised the girl (and apologized for needing 1 extra year beyond the 30 in the premise of the question), she could look him up. He hopes they can celebrate the changes we made in 2020 so for her Presidency, she could worry about something else.
The final question was about immigration law, asked by an immigration lawyer. It is a mess and needs to be fixed. How will he do it?
Pete said he’d begin by reviewing the code, especially the 1320s sections that she was familiar with. He said it’s a deeper, cultural question too. The last comprehensive immigration reform happened in 1984 or 1986, and nothing since then. But the American majority is in favor of helping dreamers, cleaning up the code, and cleaning up the quotas. Malta and India, he said, effectively have the same amount of opportunities for people to come to the United States. It just doesn’t make sense!
He pointed out that there are unlikely sources of support, namely the middle of the country. South Bend is growing, and he couldn’t be more happy about that. But without immigration, there would be no growth. There might even be negative growth! Immigration is the lifeblood of small communities that have lost large swathes of their population. Recently, he was in Storm Lake, Iowa, where he learned about their Parade of Nations, which is part of their 4th of July festivities. Because there are 24 countries represented so strongly among their citizens, they honor them all on Independence day.
One of Pete’s proposals is to fast-track green cards for people who will commit to living in places sorely needing population growth. He thought it would be risky to suggest, but apparently, people love the idea.
And it’s not just about doing the immigrants a favor, even in refugee situations, he said. Immigrants make our communities better off. We’re lucky to have them!
He wants to adjudicate asylum cases differently and shift services around so they’re covered by more appropriate departments, but it was a bit hard to hear that part.
His point was that America was ready for these changes. An American majority wanted these changes. Not a Congressional majority, but definitely an American one.
And when the American majority doesn’t agree with the Congressional majority, that is when Presidential leadership is the most important.
At this point, Pete was getting signaled to wrap it up. He apologized for rushing off, but he had one more event scheduled, a virtual town hall with people on the West Coast, and then… maybe a date night with Chasten? He’d love to grab an ice cream with him.
He was proud to share your stories, he said. Our stories. Our community’s stories. Not sharing them with rose-colored lenses, but honestly as they were. Because our story was America’s story.
Five years ago this Tuesday, one of the front page stories in the South Bend Tribune was that Mayor Pete was returning from Afghanistan. And South Bend turned out to welcome him back through the arch, with his buzzcut and in his uniform (which apparently smelled really bad, according to people who hugged him that day). And he began the transition from Lieutenant Pete back to Mayor Pete.
This city has propelled me so far in exchange for what I did for it.
— Pete Buttigieg
South Bend loved him like a son when he was away in Afghanistan, and when he came out as himself not long later, South Bend embraced him as a brother.
It is more important than ever, Pete concluded, not choked up, but his voice just a touch thicker than usual, to make you proud. And maybe this community will be able to say they produced a President.
The crowd erupted as Pete left the stage. He and Chasten were whisked out through the back, near the vault, and the crowd began to disperse. Knowing I had an hour-long drive ahead of me, I went to the bathroom and got distracted wondering about the engineering behind how much paper towel an automatic paper towel holder dispensed. That was when it was clear I needed to head home.
I took 14 pages of notes in total on the speech, but that meant I couldn’t take pictures. However, I did request pictures from the lady in blue from the bar, who brought her snazzy camera. With any luck, I’ll be able to add them to this story!
Aside from the South Bend talk in his speech, the touch of emotion, and the clear joy at being home, Pete Buttigieg did not say anything that seemed out of character or catering to the rich elite. There was nothing about taking care of them or their interests, nothing I hadn’t read in his emails or heard in his speeches and debates. I’m sorry to say that while I went with the expectation that corruption would abound, the worst thing I found was an automatic sink that sprayed water outside the sink if you had your hands in the position that they needed to be in to activate the water.
Or, in other words, #just billionaire problems.
Stuffed with tiny versions of food and high on the easy-flowing caffeine in the drinks, I picked up my book from the front table. There were only a couple books left, so I asked the staffers if they liked working for Pete. “HE’S AMAZING” they said. “WE LOVE HIM.”
“I’m sure you’re just saying that because you have to!”
“No, no, he’s really incredible! He really is different from other politicians!”
The woman I was speaking with had worked in Washington before. This was not her first politician. Not her first campaign. Not her first rodeo. But Pete was special.
Or maybe she was just being paid to say that…