He May Be New To The National Scene, But Here’s The Pete Buttigieg I’ve Known For Years
In the middle of a heated presidential campaign, what we have been hearing in the national media is not what I’ve seen as the story of South Bend.
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This op-ed is in response to a previous submission shared in December 2019.
South Carolina is a long way from South Bend, Indiana, but recently, I made the trip South to join my mayor, Pete Buttigieg, on the presidential campaign trail. I was with him as a witness to many of the good things that he has done in our shared hometown. From a health care roundtable on Charleston’s East Side to touring the historical, family-owned Bowman Vineyards in Colleton County, he was the same thoughtful, honest, inspiring leader I’ve watched up close in our community.
I heard cheers when Pete talked about the day after Donald Trump’s presidency, and I saw heads nodding when he pointed out that on that day we’re going to be even more divided and in need of leadership that can bring us together. Some folks confessed they were still learning how to pronounce his name. Others acknowledged they were still not sure what to think about him.
Pete told the South Carolinians we met that as somebody who’s new on the scene, he’s committed to earning their trust.
What I told the people of South Carolina is that Pete may be new to the national scene, but those of us in South Bend have known him for years. The man we know listens — intently — whether that’s to a Councilmember who wants to make sure that the new development lifting her city also lifts longtime residents, or community members scared their children may be touched by gun violence, or a young resident with an idea to improve her community. And the man we know leads.
In 2011, we were considered a dying city. Now, if you come to South Bend, we are vibrant and thriving. More and more people in South Bend have jobs and are buying homes. When I think about the kind of leader it will take on that day after Donald Trump, I think about the person who in eight years worked with all kinds of people to turn around a city left for dead.
Under Pete’s leadership, we have made all kinds of smart and intentional investments in our city. We worked to revitalize downtown, so that all residents of South Bend had access to a vibrant — and growing — urban area. We installed technology and WiFi in low-income neighborhoods, so that residents who might not be able to get around easily can still have access to the Internet and education.
We also have made great strides in revitalizing South Bend’s neighborhoods. In the South East neighborhood I represent, we renovated parks that had suffered from decades of neglect, and partnered with a nonprofit community development corporation, 466 Works, that has helped lift up our residents with affordable housing and services. And on the west side of town, Pete made the investments needed to restore the Charles Black Community Center, a gathering space with resources for all ages in a predominantly Black neighborhood, launching everything from a pickleball league to a recording studio, to a tech hub where residents can use computers and printers. When the Center was desperately in need of renovation, local leaders requested $3.5 million for the repairs. He put up $4.5 million — and engaged the whole neighborhood to make sure that the Center served everyone.
Now, Pete would be the first to admit that our progress has not been perfect, but he’s also always been at the forefront pushing for progress. In 2016, Pete was the first mayor to ask for a study of the racial wealth gap, because he wanted our city to have the data so that we could finally start tackling head on systemic inequities in our city. And after having a better sense of the gaps that need to be closed in our city, the Council, in partnership with the mayor’s administration, have been going to neighborhoods and talked about housing, economic development, education and empowerment. From those conversations, we have been committed to adding funding into the budget to address those disparities and build up those neighborhoods.
Pete also realizes that we need federal solutions to tackle issues that cities like South Bend are facing across the country, which is why he’s put forward a Douglass Plan to lift up minority communities. He knows, for example, that investing in entrepreneurship is critical, which is why the city opened the West Side Small Business Resource Center to help South Bend residents, particularly residents of color, realize their goal of starting a business. And that’s why he’s committing to tripling the number of entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds within a decade. He’s also pledged to award at least 25% of federal business contracts to minority and women-owned businesses, which would put roughly $100 billion into our communities.
Another way I’ve seen Pete’s record mirror his policy proposals is that one of the biggest problems with our economy is that people simply need to get paid more. And as I told the audience in Allendale, South Carolina, Pete has taken steps in South Bend to make sure that people had a decent, livable wage. He raised the wages of city employees to $10.10 an hour for hourly employees. On top of that, he implemented paid family leave for city employees. So when Pete talks about the need for a national $15 minimum wage, or guarantees 12 weeks of paid family leave, I know it’s more than talk. I know he will make good on that promise.
And lastly, what Pete says about reproductive freedom and ensuring women have control over their own reproductive health care on the campaign trail is what I’ve seen back home. Last year, I watched as Pete navigated a controversial zoning decision over whether to locate a crisis pregnancy center next to a Whole Woman’s Health clinic. He heard both sides out, and ultimately made the decision to veto that effort. And I was proud to vote in the Common Council to uphold his veto.
In the middle of a heated presidential campaign, what we have been hearing in the national media is not what I’ve seen as the story of South Bend. Every community has its challenges, but I don’t recognize my city in those stories — and neither does most of the South Bend community. I am proud of the work we’ve done together to strengthen South Bend. I know what my mayor will be able to accomplish nationwide. And as more people across America hear him, I am confident Pete Buttigieg will earn their trust and their vote.
Sharon McBride represents South Bend's third district on the City's Common Council. A South Bend native, McBride was a 2014 recipient of the Martin Luther King Foundation of St. Joseph County Community Service Award, and she also received the Dismas House of Michiana Appreciation Award. She also is the Executive Administrator of the Second Baptist Church in South Bend