Metro Weekly

Openly gay South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg forms presidential exploratory committee

Buttigieg's message focuses on generational change as he takes steps towards a 2020 run for the White House

Pete Buttigieg – Photo: Facebook.

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old openly gay veteran and mayor of South Bend, Ind., has announced he is forming a presidential exploratory committee — one of the first steps to begin raising money for a potential 2020 presidential campaign.

Buttigieg, a Naval veteran of the war in Afghanistan, announced on Wednesday that he was seriously considering a presidential bid, in both an email sent to supporters and in a video posted to his website and Facebook page.

“I launched a presidential exploratory committee because it is a season for boldness and it is time to focus on the future,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “Are you ready to walk away from the politics of the past?”

Buttigieg’s message largely centers around generational change, in an attempt to sidestep the divisive issues that characterize much of American politics.

Instead, he’s focusing on what he feels is his success in turning around South Bend, which had been referred to by pundits as a “dying city” less than 8 years ago.

“The reality is there is no going back, and there’s no such thing as ‘again’ in the real world,” Buttigieg says in a subtle dig at President Trump in his announcement video. “We can’t look for greatness in the past. Right now, our country needs a fresh start.”

In December, Buttigieg announced he would not run for a third term as mayor in 2019’s municipal elections, leading to speculation about a possible presidential run.

The self-described “millennial mayor” ran for chair of the Democratic National Committee following the 2016 election, and recently traveled to Iowa — the site of the first 2020 primaries — where he spoke before, and was well-received by, a group of progressive activists.

“I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now,” he says in his announcement video. “We’re the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in the wars after 9/11, and we’re the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents, unless we do something different.”

Buttigieg, a South Bend native, is a graduate of Harvard College and later became a Rhodes Scholar. He previously ran and lost a race for Indiana State Treasurer in 2010 before winning the mayor’s race the next year.

Buttigieg faces an uphill battle in the Democratic primary, which is expected to attract a couple dozen candidates, including several with a high degree of name recognition among the broader electorate, including U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

Other well-known figures, including former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) are also expected to jump into the race.

Following his announcement, the LGBTQ Victory Fund, which seeks to elect out LGBTQ people to public office, welcomed Buttigieg to the race, noting the historic nature of his candidacy, at least within the Democratic Party. Former campaign consultant Fred Karger became the first openly gay candidate to seek a major party’s nomination for the presidency when he ran in the 2012 Republican primaries.

“An openly LGBTQ elected official forming a presidential exploratory committee is a historic and powerful moment for the LGBTQ community and the entire country,” Annise Parker, the president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Fund, said in a statement. “Exactly fifty years after the Stonewall uprising that gave birth to the modern LGBTQ rights movement, we are finally in a place where an openly LGBTQ presidential candidate can be a serious contender.”

Parker added that Buttigieg — particularly as he runs on a campaign of breaking with political orthodoxy — would provide a new, diverse perspective and would be a welcome addition to the Democratic field as primary voters make up their minds about who is best positioned to take on President Trump.

For his part, the president, never one to shy away from a fight, is expected to run a “scorched-earth” campaign against the party’s eventual nominee.

“Mayor Buttigieg is well-positioned for this political moment,” Parker said. “He represents a new generation of presidential contenders and brings a sense of optimism and American solidarity that is entirely absent from the current national dialogue. He brings a unique set of skills and values to the race as a successful two-term executive, a first-generation American and a gay war veteran from a deep red state.

“Mayor Buttigieg understands that Americans are tired of politics as blood-sport and instead want politicians to address real issues affecting real lives. He sees the similarities between the blue-collar worker in Indiana, the undocumented immigrant in Arizona, and the young lesbian in middle school in rural Virginia — and he believes with strong leadership all their lives can be improved.”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

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