Who Is Pete Buttigieg?
Pete Buttigieg is a former two-term mayor of South Bend, Indiana. A graduate of Harvard University and an Oxford Rhodes Scholar, Buttigieg enlisted in the U.S. Navy Reserve and became a lieutenant when he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. In April 2019 he announced his candidacy in the 2020 U.S. presidential election, a bid that would have made him the youngest and the first openly gay president in U.S. history. Despite emerging as a top-tier Democratic candidate, Buttigieg suspended his campaign in early March 2020.
Early Life and Family
The only child to parents Joseph and Jennifer Buttigieg, Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg was born on January 19, 1982, and raised in South Bend, Indiana. His father immigrated from Malta while in college, and although he studied to be a Jesuit priest, Joseph ended up becoming a literature professor at the University of Notre Dame for nearly three decades.
Buttigieg's mother, Jennifer, is a linguist and hails from Indiana. Like her husband, Jennifer taught at the University of Notre Dame as a professor for almost three decades.
The child of two college professors, Buttigieg excelled academically. He was his high school's valedictorian and also matriculated to Harvard University as a history and literature major. After graduating in 2004, he became a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford and graduated with a B.A. in philosophy, politics and economics.
During his college years, Buttigieg got involved in politics on the state level and was later employed as a director by a consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Post college, he worked on John Kerry's presidential campaign in 2004 and for another consulting firm, McKinsey & Company, in Chicago. He currently serves as an advisor for the Truman National Security Project, a progressive national security organization.
Besides his native English, Buttigieg has fluency in seven additional languages: Italian, Maltese, Spanish, Dari Persian, Arabic, French and Norweigan (the last being self-taught).
As a supporter and volunteer of Barack Obama's presidential bid, Buttigieg was inspired to enlist in the military in 2007. Two years later, he became a U.S. Navy Reserve officer, and while serving his first term as the mayor of South Bend in 2014, was deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, where he took part in the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC), which aimed to disrupt the financial systems of terrorist organizations.
In his 2019 autobiography, Shortest Way Home, Buttigieg described serving in dangerous areas in Kabul: “In a ritual to be repeated dozens of times, I would heave my armored torso into the driver’s seat of a Land Cruiser, chamber a round in my M4, lock the doors and wave a gloved goodbye to the Macedonian gate guard,” Buttigieg wrote. “My vehicle would cross outside the wire and into the boisterous Afghan city, entering a world infinitely more interesting and ordinary and dangerous than our zone behind the blast walls at ISAF headquarters.”
Moved by his overseas experience, in 2015, Buttigieg came out as a gay man.
Mayor of South Bend
After winning the mayoral election in South Bend, Indiana, Buttigieg, then just 29 years old, took his office in January 2012 and became the youngest mayor to serve a U.S. city with over 100,000 residents.
Buttigieg was re-elected in 2015, but not without a stain on his record: During his first term, federal authorities uncovered that South Bend's police were illegally wiretapping some of its officers' phone calls, under the request of police chief Darryl Boykins. This prompted Buttigieg to not only demote Boykins but to later ask for his resignation. Boykins, who was the city's first Black police chief, eventually sued the city, claiming discrimination (previous white police chiefs purportedly conducted the same wiretapping policy). This controversial event, Buttigieg claims, was his "first serious mistake as mayor."
Despite accruing some controversies, Buttigieg also helped transform the city. He created programs to repair and clean up abandoned buildings, assisted low-incoming housing and promoted urban development projects.
Buttigieg left office after completing two terms, giving way to his former high school classmate and chief of staff, James Mueller.
Buttigieg lacked the name recognition and support of other leading Democratic candidates when he formally launched his presidential campaign in April 2019, but he soon gained ground thanks to his obvious intellect and charisma, and toward the end of the year he was trailing only the big three of Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the polls.
Medicare For All Who Want It
While the healthcare debate in America continues to be heated and controversial, Buttigieg took a middle-ground approach to this issue. He supported giving Americans a choice in their healthcare by proposing an "opt in" option, while simultaneously allowing Americans who prefer to stay with private insurance to have that alternative available. Buttigieg's "Medicare For All Who Want It" contrasted with the government-run single-payer proposal backed by the more progressive candidates such as Sanders and Warren.
The Douglass Plan
To address the issues of Black disenfranchisement and reparations, which were among the topics debated by 2020 Democratic candidates, Buttigieg proposed the Douglass Plan. Named after the abolitionist and civil rights activist Frederick Douglass, the plan offered improved healthcare policies to the Black community, giving more access to credit for Black businesses and entrepreneurs, a reinvestment in education and systematic criminal justice reform. While the Douglass Plan specifically focused on the needs and concerns of African Americans, it also served to aid other disenfranchised minority groups.
Buttigieg created "A New Call to Service" plan that encouraged high school students to serve in national programs like the Peace Corps and AmeriCorps and to engage in some of the pressing issues of the times, including climate change, addiction and mental health issues and mentorship.
The U.S. Supreme Court
In an effort to depoliticize the U.S. Supreme Court, Buttigieg considered the alternative of adding five more justices to the current Court structure. Vetted by the lower courts, these additional justices would only be able to serve after being unanimously voted by the original nine U.S. Supreme Court justices. Buttigieg also considered term limits for justices, saying he would form a bipartisan commission to explore the best and most viable options if elected president.
Secretary of Transportation
On February 2, 2021, Buttigieg was confirmed as President Biden's secretary of transportation, making him the first openly gay man cabinet secretary. "I'm honored and humbled by today's vote in the Senate—and ready to get to work," he tweeted.
Although Buttigieg's campaign was seemingly on strong ground when he won the controversial Iowa caucuses in early February 2020, the candidate was unable to sustain the momentum through subsequent primaries. On March 1, after finishing well behind Biden and Sanders in South Carolina, Buttigieg announced that he was dropping out of the presidential race.
"Our goal has always been to unify Americans to defeat Donald Trump and to win the era for our values," he told supporters. "So we must recognize that at this point in the race the best way to keep faith with those goals and ideals is to step aside and to help bring our party and our country together."
Husband and Personal Life
Buttigieg met his husband, Chasten, on a dating app in 2015 and married him three years later. Having earned his master's at DePaul University, Chasten became a junior high school teacher and taught at Montessori Academy in Indiana. After Buttigieg announced his presidential run, Chasten relinquished his teaching position to travel with him and support his candidacy.
An Episcopalian, Buttigieg was unique among his 2020 Democratic presidential colleagues for making his Christian faith a cornerstone of his political identity. Known for calling out religious Republicans who vote against measures that undermine the needs of the poor, Buttigieg received praise from some and criticism from others in religious circles.
He publicly lambasted Vice President Mike Pence, who is an evangelical Christian, for being a "cheerleader for the porn-star presidency" and criticized conservative Christians who supported President Trump.
"Because my party's been so allergic to religious language, we've forgotten that people need to be made aware of their choice," Buttigieg told CNN. "I've got to speak up, if only to point out the hypocrisies of those now in power. Time will tell whether that's smart politically or not."
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