Your Complete, One Stop Guide to Why Buttigieg is the Wrong Choice (Part I)

Chris Landry
Dec 18, 2019 · 8 min read
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

This was originally published as one long piece but I’ve updated and published it as a three-part series. Part II is here.

Pete Buttigieg is talented, is the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate, and is liked by a lot of people. He is also absolutely not the right candidate for this election. Here, gathered in one convenient place, are some of the reasons why, based on excellent reporting from dozens of journalists.

1. He’s running on his resumé. It’s pretty thin!

Pete Buttigieg likes to refer to himself as “effectively the CEO of a 1,200 person, $250 million corporation which is the city of South Bend.”

That’s great, but Buttigieg is mayor of the forty-seventh largest city in the Midwest, he received 8,515 votes last election, he’s only had the job since 2012, and he made the shocking admission recently that he “worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated…”

Yes, you say, but Pete went to Harvard and was a Rhodes Scholar, and the media keep talking about how smart he is. So let’s look at the backgrounds of three other candidates who are not, you know, white men.

Cory Booker got his BA and a master’s degree at Stanford, was also a Rhodes Scholar, and went to Yale Law School. He was mayor of Newark, a much larger city, and in his first term doubled affordable housing under development and cut the city budget deficit in half. He has been a U.S. Senator since 2013, the first black U.S. Senator from New Jersey.

Amy Klobuchar attended Yale and the University of Chicago Law School and was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006.

Julian Castro attended Stanford and Harvard Law School and was mayor of San Antonio, the seventh-largest city in the country with 1.5 million people. He was the youngest person ever elected to San Antonio City Council, and served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in Obama’s cabinet.

Turns out they’re all smart! And more experienced! As Ryan Cooper writes:

Buttigieg is just preposterously inexperienced. He would be 39 on inauguration day, and thus the youngest president in American history, with nothing but the mayoralty of the 306th-largest city in the country and a single seven-month tour in Afghanistan as a low-level officer as experience. Among presidents, only Trump would have had less before taking office.

Conclusion: It’s almost impossible to imagine a woman or person of color with his slim resumé being taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

2. His time at McKinsey raises a lot of questions.

Buttigieg likes to tell crowds, “I got started in the private sector,” and says that at McKinsey he “never worked on a project inconsistent with my values.” But Brendan O’Connor writes, “This is a company that tells other companies (and governments) how to be as ruthless as possible.”

McKinsey has, for example:

Tara Golshan reports that Buttigieg was part of a McKinsey team that advised the U.S. Postal Service to “cut back operation days, increase mail delivery times, automate postal services and replace unionized labor with non-unionized labor.” His campaign team says the future world leader’s role was limited to [checks notes] advising on greeting card sales.

Another of Buttigieg’s clients was Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Ryan Grim tweets, “After retaining McKinsey, Blue Cross raised premiums and fired workers,” a fact that we know Trump would exploit in the general election. Former industry flack Wendell Potter explains:

Buttigieg told Rachel Maddow he “doubts” whether his work was connected to layoffs, but that’s not what he implied in a 2011 forum. He also says he is disappointed by some of what McKinsey does now, but it’s disingenuous to suggest they have changed; they are almost comically evil. And while the scrutiny has caused him to downplay his time there, critics aren’t buying it.

“If that’s their argument — that 10 years ago he was a 25-year-old doing PowerPoints — then he has no business running for office,” said [Murshed] Zaheed, former aide to Harry Reid and a Warren supporter.

Edward-Isaac Dovere writes:

Buttigieg has intentionally tried to position himself as the next Barack Obama, another “young man with a funny name,” as he put it in a big speech in Iowa last month. But this is among the points where they diverge. Obama took two years after college to work for a few thousand dollars a year as a community organizer in Chicago. Buttigieg came back from Oxford a Rhodes Scholar, and could have had almost any first job he wanted. He chose McKinsey, working out of a Chicago office a few miles from where Obama had been knocking on doors to fight for issues like tenants’ rights. To his critics, going to work at McKinsey at all says something about what the mayor values.

Conclusion: Buttigieg’s campaign has denied he was involved in any of the stuff—price fixing, layoffs, and union busting—his clients did after hiring McKinsey, but his work would be used against him in the general election. And his choice to work as an errand boy of extractive capitalism reflects a boring but destructive neoliberal worldview that has been in place since JFK. It’s the exact opposite of the fresh new approach he’s trying to sell.

3. His record as mayor is troubling.

Pete Buttigieg is running on his record as mayor. But that record reveals blind spots and failures that suggest he is not ready for the biggest job in the world.

1. Mayor Pete takes credit for turning his city around, but residents in largely low-income and black neighborhoods say his gentrification policies ignored their needs. Of his plan to demolish 1,000 structures in his first 1,000 days in office, Buttigieg wrote that “In some ways, it was a classic example of data-driven management paying off,” but Buzzfeed reports that many felt he was indifferent to poor people and people of color trying to improve their lives. Henry Gomez writes:

“There were people in the neighborhoods who wanted to rehab vacant properties, either for themselves or as investments, and to keep money in the community. But they found a system working against them, from the city bureaucracy to costly fines and penalties.

More broadly, they saw a mayor who wanted what they wanted — revitalized neighborhoods — but who didn’t listen to their concerns about displacement. And there were suspicions that homes were targeted because they stood in the way of other city-endorsed residential development plans that would price out longtime area homeowners and renters.

The HuffPost reports:

While South Bend’s economic fortunes have improved overall, homelessness and displacement have worsened. Buttigieg has sold a park to private developers and given tax breaks to luxury condos. Less than a mile west of South Bend’s booming downtown, its African American and Latino residents continue to complain of police harassment, rampant evictions and a team of “code enforcement” inspectors who fine them every time they forget to mow their own lawns.

Lisa DeBerry, a South Bend activist, told NPR that Buttigieg shouldn’t be president, saying, “That’s like a mother having her own children and not taking care of them and then wants foster children. It’s like no, we’re not going to give you more.” Others point to his demolition of a homeless encampment in freezing weather as evidence of his governing style.

2. He has poorly managed the police force, which has (among other things) become less diverse during his tenure.

  • He has for years resisted calls for a civilian review board to oversee the police, one that would have members chosen in part by the public. A July editorial in the South Bend Tribune states, “Such a system is sorely needed now, with mistrust at an all-time high.”
  • TYT reports that when one of the officers alleged to have used racist language ran for sheriff last year, his biggest backers included top Buttigieg supporters “and the lawyer Buttigieg brought in to handle the tapes case, according to campaign finance forms.” If this is true, he should explain. Surely his friends would have refrained from supporting this former officer if he had asked them to.
  • Buttigieg’s response to the fatal police shooting in June of Eric Logan angered many black residents.

3. Pete Buttigieg was — for years — not aware that the schools in his county were not desegregated, which is an extraordinary admission for someone who grew up there and is the mayor.

“I have to confess that I was slow to realize — I worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated…” he said in an interview with Rev. William Barber III, a prominent civil rights activist.

It’s revealing that the candidate who suggested that others need to have “some humility” is running for president when he has been so unaware of the lived experience of students of color in his own city. For a Harvard-educated, McKinsey-trained, data-driven technocrat to not know something so basic can only mean that he never cared enough to know. Julian Castro’s reaction:

4. South Bend spends less than 1% of its procurement budget on minority-owned businesses. The HuffPost reports that, “A think tank hired to produce a report on the city’s racial wealth gap was specifically prohibited from issuing recommendations for addressing it.” People of color make up more than 40% of the city’s population.

5. He has hired a mostly white staff in South Bend. The Intercept reports that, despite pledging to make diversity a priority, “of nine South Bend city departments heads…seven are white, while one is black. And only two of Buttigieg’s six executive staff members in South Bend are nonwhite...”

Conclusion: Pete Buttigieg has clearly done some fine work as mayor of his small city, and there’s evidence that he’s learning from his mistakes, but his police force has been running rogue for years, and the economic gains he touts have not been equally shared across the community. One wonders what part of his record suggests he’s ready to run the country.

This piece is built on the hard work of brilliant journalists. Please click through to read their work, support them, and thank them. Part II of this series is here.

Chris Landry

Written by

Writer, filmmaker, consultant to organizations working on climate change and justice issues.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade