Why Democrats should pick Pete
I met Pete Buttigieg in the summer of 2008. We were working on a campaign and quickly became friends while crisscrossing Indiana doing advance work. When you spend that much time driving through farmland as far as the eye can see, you get to know a person pretty well.
The more I got to know Pete, the more I realized the passenger in my old Jeep Cherokee was someone brilliant. Someone destined to do great things.
Before articles appeared touting Mayor Pete as one of the youngest mayors in the country, or as the prospective “First Gay President,” or as the veteran who served a tour in Afghanistan while in office, there was just my friend Peter.
I was immensely intrigued by this Rhodes Scholar educated at Harvard and Oxford. He had given up a job at one of the top consulting firms in the world to move back to his hometown of South Bend, Indiana. He had no job prospects, and it was the peak of the 2008–09 economic crash, no less.
But that was the point. Because Pete had a vision.
When I came back to visit Pete in February 2009, he had just purchased a gorgeous, seriously neglected home on the banks of the St. Joseph River.
I looked at him incredulously. He had, from my perspective, just purchased a huge money pit, and he wasn’t even sure where his next paycheck would be coming from.
But Pete had a vision.
During that weekend I spent with Pete, he took me around South Bend to offer a history lesson on his city. We visited the site of the Studebaker plant, an eyesore that had been sitting for decades just a couple blocks south of downtown. I saw an abandoned building that was a perfect example of why South Bend’s greatest days were behind it. Pete saw immense opportunity. This was prime real estate that could be revamped and reinvigorated, land that could draw desperately needed jobs back to downtown South Bend, he reasoned.
Again, Pete had a vision.
As happens in life, we drifted apart, but I always kept an eye on Pete from afar. I was always curious what he was going to do next. I knew wherever he was — and whatever he was doing — the outcome would be great.
Pete ran for state treasurer of Indiana in 2010. And he got trounced. But he learned from the experience. Next, he honed in on the city he loved and ran for mayor at the age of 28.
There were the usual faction candidates and then there was Pete.
During that campaign, the more people heard what Pete had to say, the more they liked what they heard. It was the same conclusion I had reached three years earlier: Whatever he was doing, it was going to be great. Pete won that election for mayor of South Bend with 74 percent of the vote.
The citizens of South Bend knew Pete had a vision.
Now, people might say, “Sure, he had a vision. So what?”
What’s most important is that Mayor Pete knows how to make that vision a reality.
Since becoming mayor, Pete has revamped the sewer system, saving South Bend more than $100 million. He tore down 1,000 blighted homes in 1,000 days. And that abandoned Studebaker Plant is now being reimagined as a thriving business park that will bring jobs back to South Bend.
Also, he has since remodeled his home to its original beauty. And it’s probably one of the best personal investments he’s ever made.
But, more importantly, the city has a renewed sense of pride that it hasn’t had for decades. You hear it when people talk about South Bend. You can even see it in the comments on social media, where you usually hear from only the harshest critics. (And yes, there are still some of those, too.)
Mayor Pete has created a brand for South Bend. And that brand is the most important thing any organization, city, state or country could ever have. Everyone loves a comeback story. And Peter helped make South Bend a comeback story.
Mayor Pete is running for DNC Chair because he wants to create a new comeback story.
The DNC needs rebranding. A renewed sense of pride, a leader who has experience doing big things and a willingness to approach some things differently. That’s not to say what we fight for wasn’t always good and right, but sometimes you need to change the discussion. To revamp, and leave past arguments behind.
The other candidates for DNC Chair are extremely accomplished people and much braver than me for putting themselves out there. I don’t have a bad word to say about any of them.
But right now, when Democrats are feeling a little demoralized, when activists are getting together in neighborhoods across the country to figure out how to re-create a movement that brings us back, we need someone who has experience turning around big things at their lowest point. Someone who knows how to take all of that energy and focus it in the right places.
I believe that person is Mayor Pete Buttigieg. He has a vision and, more importantly, he knows how to implement it. As a proud and continuously loyal Democrat, I sincerely hope he will be our next DNC Chair.
Because he has a vision.