In December 2020, President-elect Biden named Buttigieg as his nominee to be Secretary of Transportation. His nomination was confirmed on February 2, 2021 by a vote of 86–13, making him the first openly LGBT Cabinet member in U.S. history.[b] Nominated at age 38, he is also the youngest Cabinet secretary in the Biden administration and the youngest person ever to serve as Secretary of Transportation.
Buttigieg has been involved with the Truman National Security Project since 2005 and serves as a fellow with expertise in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In 2014, he was named to the organization's board of advisors.
Buttigieg joined the U.S. Navy Reserve through the direct commission officer (DCO) program and was sworn in as an ensign in naval intelligence in September 2009. In 2014, he took a seven-month leave during his mayoral term to deploy to Afghanistan. While there, Buttigieg was part of a unit assigned to identify and disrupt terrorist finance networks. Part of this was done at Bagram Air Base, but he was also an armed driver for his commander on more than 100 trips into Kabul. Buttigieg has jokingly has referred to this role as "military Uber", because he had to watch out for ambushes and explosive devices along the roads and ensure that the vehicle was guarded. In order to better communicate with the local Afghans, he learned some Dari (a dialect of the Persian language). Buttigieg was awarded the Joint Service Commendation Medal. He resigned his commission from the U.S. Navy Reserve in 2017.
Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend in the November 2011 election, with 10,991 of the 14,883 votes cast (74%). He took office in January 2012 at the age of 29, becoming the second-youngest mayor in South Bend history (Schuyler Colfax III had become mayor in 1898 when aged 28) and the youngest incumbent mayor, at the time, of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents.
On April 14, 2011, before Buttigieg took office as mayor, Jiha'd Vasquez, a 16-year-old black boy, was found hanging from an electrical tower. Vasquez's backpack, on the ground near his body, had several items missing, according to Vasquez's mother Stephanie Jones. The coroner, Chuck Hurley, who had no medical experience, claimed Vasquez's death was a suicide; Buttigieg later appointed Hurley to serve as interim police chief. Vasquez's body was cremated without an autopsy being conducted. Jones attempted to get Buttigieg to investigate her son's death, but he did not, fearing "potential political risks." According to Jones, Buttigieg told her to call his office, but she never got a response. Jones and South Bend NAACP legal redress chair Tom Bush claimed the event was a cover-up, with Bush saying he suspected the Ku Klux Klan may be involved and hoped for a federal investigation, but did not expect it, saying "the only reason this will get done is if you’re on a microphone yelling and screaming." When Buttigieg's presidential campaign was asked about the incident by a reporter in 2019, they did not give a response. In 2019, Jones and St.Joseph County coroner Mike McGann argued that the case should be reopened; however, sheriff William Redman said he would not consider reopening the case unless further evidence came to light.
In 2012, after a federal investigation ruled that South Bend police had illegally recorded telephone calls of several officers, Buttigieg demoted police chief Darryl Boykins. (Boykins had first been appointed in 2008 by Mayor Stephen Luecke, and reappointed by Buttigieg earlier in 2012.) Buttigieg also dismissed the department's communications director, the one who had actually "discovered the recordings but continued to record the line at Boykins' command". The police communications director alleged that the recordings captured four senior police officers making racist remarks and discussing illegal acts. The city is 26% black, but only 6% of the police force is black.
Buttigieg has written that his "first serious mistake as mayor" came shortly after taking office in 2012, when he decided to ask for Boykins's resignation. The city's first ever African-American police chief accepted the request. However, the next day, backed by supporters and legal counsel, Boykin requested reinstatement. When Buttigieg denied this request, Boykin sued the city for racial discrimination, arguing that the taping policy had existed under previous police chiefs, who were white. Buttigieg settled the suits brought by Boykins and the four officers out of court for over $800,000. A federal judge ruled in 2015 that Boykins's recordings violated the Federal Wiretap Act. Buttigieg came under pressure from political opponents to release the tapes, but said that doing so would be a violation of the Wiretap Act. He called for the eradication of racial bias in the police force. An Indiana court is hearing a case for the release of the tapes.
As mayor, Buttigieg promoted a number of development and redevelopment projects. Buttigieg was a leading figure behind the creation of a nightly laser-light display along downtown South Bend's St.Joseph River trail as public art. The project cost $700,000, which was raised from private funds. The "River Lights" installation was unveiled in May 2015 as part of the city's 150th anniversary celebrations. He also oversaw the city's launching of a 3-1-1 system in 2013. Buttigieg's administration oversaw the sale of numerous city-owned properties. One of Buttigieg's signature programs was the "Vacant and Abandoned Properties Initiative". Known locally as "1,000 Properties in 1,000 Days", it is a project to repair or demolish blighted properties across South Bend. The program reached its goal two months before its scheduled end date in November 2015. By the thousandth day of the program, before Buttigieg's first term ended, nearly 40% of the targeted houses were repaired, and 679 were demolished or under contract for demolition. Buttigieg took note of the fact that many homes within communities of color were the ones demolished, leading to early distrust between the city and these communities.
In 2015, during the controversy over Indiana Senate Bill 101 – the original version of which was widely criticized for allowing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – Buttigieg emerged as a leading opponent of the legislation. Amid his reelection campaign, he came out as gay to express his solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
In 2014, Buttigieg announced that he would seek a second term in 2015. He won the Democratic primary with 78% of the vote, defeating Henry Davis Jr., the city councilman from the second district. In November 2015, he was elected to his second term as mayor with over 80% of the vote, defeating Republican Kelly Jones by a margin of 8,515 to 2,074 votes.
In 2013, Buttigieg proposed a "Smart Streets" urban development program to improve South Bend's downtown area, and in early 2015 – after traffic studies and public hearings – he secured a bond issue for the program backed by tax increment financing. "Smart Streets" was a complete streets implementation program. "Smart Streets" was aimed at improving economic development and urban vibrancy as well as road safety. Elements of the project were finished in 2016, and it was officially completed in 2017. The project was credited with spurring private development in the city.
In a new phase of the Vacant and Abandoned Properties Initiative, South Bend partnered with the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center to provide free legal assistance to qualifying applicants wishing to acquire vacant lots and, with local nonprofits, to repair or construct homes and provide low-income home ownership assistance using South Bend HUD (Housing and Urban Development) funds.
Studebaker Building84 in 2014
In 2016, the City of South Bend partnered with the State of Indiana and private developers to break ground on a $165million renovation of the former Studebaker complex, with the aim to make the complex home to tech companies and residential condos. This development is in the so-called "Renaissance District", which includes nearby Ignition Park. In 2017, it was announced that the long-abandoned Studebaker Building84 (also known as "Ivy Tower") would have its exterior renovated with $3.5million in Regional Cities funds from the State of Indiana and another $3.5million from South Bend tax increment financing, with plans for the building and other structures in its complex to serve as a technology hub.
Under Buttigieg, the city also began a "smart sewer" program, the first phase of which was finished in 2017 at a cost of $150million. The effort utilized federal funds and by 2019 had reduced the combined sewer overflow by 75%. The impetus for the effort was a fine that the EPA had levied against the city in 2011 for Clean Water Act violations. However, Buttigieg also, in 2019, sought for the city to be released from an agreement with the EPA brokered under his mayoral predecessor Steve Luecke, in which South Bend had agreed to make hundreds of millions dollars in further improvements to its sewer system by 2031.
In April 2019, the Common Council approved Buttigieg's request to enable his administration to develop a city climate plan. The Common Council did so, and that month Buttigieg contracted with the Chicago firm Delta Institute to develop a plan. In late November 2019, the city's Common Council voted 7–0 to approve the resultant "Carbon Neutral 2050" plan, setting the goal of meeting the Paris Agreement's 26% emission reduction by 2025, and aiming for a further reductions of 45% by 2035.
Buttigieg continued to support private developments in the city. By one account, by the year 2019, the city had seen $374million in private investment for mixed-use developments since Buttigieg had taken office. By another account, during Buttigieg's tenure, Downtown South Bend saw roughly $200million in private investment.
Under Buttigieg, South Bend invested $50million in the city's parks, many of which had been neglected during the preceding decades.
There was a strong public reaction to the police shooting of Eric Logan
After a white South Bend police officer shot and killed Eric Logan, an African-American man, in June 2019, Buttigieg was drawn from his presidential campaign to focus on the emerging public reaction. Body cameras were not turned on during Logan's death. Soon after Logan's death, Buttigieg presided over a town hall attended by disaffected activists from the African-American community as well as relatives of the deceased man. The local police union accused Buttigieg of making decisions for political gain. In November 2019, Buttigieg secured $180,000 to commission a review of South Bend's police department policies and practices to be conducted by Chicago-based consulting firm 21CP Solutions.
In 2020, the website "Best Cities" ranked South Bend number 39 on its list of the 100 best small cities in the United States, giving much credit to the progress made under Buttigieg.
By the end of 2017, it had been noted that, as his national profile increased following his run in the 2017 DNC chairmanship election, Buttigieg had increased his out-of-city travel. By the early months of 2018, there was speculation that Buttigieg was looking towards running for either governor or president in the year 2020. There was some speculation that, despite a presidential bid being a long shot, he garner enough recognition to become a dark horse contender for the vice presidential slot on the Democratic ticket.
In December 2018, Buttigieg announced that he would not seek a third term as mayor of South Bend. In February 2019, Buttigieg endorsed James Mueller in the 2019 South Bend mayoral election. Mueller was a high-school classmate of Buttigieg's and his mayoral chief of staff, and later executive director of the South Bend Department of Community Investment. Mueller's campaign promised to continue the progress that had been made under Buttigieg's mayoralty. Buttigieg appeared in campaign ads for Mueller and donated to Mueller's campaign. Mueller won the May 2019 Democratic primary with 37% of the vote in a crowded field. In the November 2019 general election, Mueller defeated Republican nominee Sean M. Haas with 63% of the vote. Mueller took office on New Year's Day 2020.
In his early acts as secretary, Buttigieg worked on re-organizing the department's internal policy structure, including carrying out a thorough review process of rules enacted under the Trump administration.
In late February 2021, Buttigieg addressed the African American Mayors Association to discuss systemic racism. He argued that misguided investments in the federal transport and infrastructure policy had contributed to racial inequity. In early March, Politico noted that Buttigieg had mentioned racial equity in almost every interview he gave to the press as it related to his work at the department.
Early into his tenure, Buttigieg noted that the United States' actions surrounding road traffic safety is lacking and encouraged the improved design of roads. He also encouraged a shift in the policy from decisions based on cars to decisions based on human actions.
On May 19, 2021, Buttigieg reinstated a Obama-era pilot program which ensures local hiring for public works projects, with the goal of helping minorities and disadvantaged individuals. This program had been revoked in 2017 during the Trump administration, when the Department of Transportation (under the leadership of Elaine Chao) moved back to rules established during the Reagan administration, which banned geographic-based hiring preferences.
During his 2020 campaign for the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg proposed spending $1trillion on U.S. infrastructure projects over the next ten years, estimating that the plan would create at least six million jobs. The plan focused on green energy, protecting tap water from lead, fixing roads and bridges, improving public transportation, repairing schools, guaranteeing broadband internet access, and preparing communities for floods and other natural disasters.
Buttigieg supports abortion rights and the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother is in danger. He favors amending civil rights legislation, including the Federal Equality Act so that LGBT Americans receive federal non-discrimination protections.
Buttigieg supports expanding opportunities for national service, including a voluntary year of national service for those turning 18 years old.
Buttigieg supports eliminating the death penalty, marijuana legalization, moving toward reversing criminal sentences for minor drug-related offenses, and eliminating incarceration for drug possession offenses.
In 2019, he called for the U.S. to "decriminalize mental illness and addiction through diversion, treatment, and re-entry programs" with a goal of decreasing "the number of people incarcerated due to mental illness or substance use by 75% in the first term."
Buttigieg speaking at the 2019 Iowa Federation of Labor Convention
Buttigieg identifies as a democratic capitalist and has decried crony capitalism. He has entertained the possibility of antitrust actions against large technology companies on the basis of privacy and data security concerns. During the Democratic primary, he supported deficit and debt reduction, arguing that large debt makes it harder to invest in infrastructure, health and safety.
In July 2019, he released a plan to strengthen union bargaining power, to raise the minimum wage to $15, and to offer national paid family leave.
Buttigieg speaking to the Iowa State Education Association in 2020
Buttigieg's education plan includes a $700billion investment in universal full-day child care and pre-K for all children from infancy to age 5. Buttigieg also wants to triple Title I funding for schools. Other goals include doubling the amount of new teachers of color in the next 10 years, addressing school segregation with a $500million fund, paying teachers more, expanding mental health services in schools, and creating more after-school programs and summer learning opportunities.
His plan for debt-free college partially involves expanding Pell Grants for low and middle-income students, as well as other investments and ending Trump's tax cuts for the wealthy. Under his plan, the bottom 80% of students would get free college, with the other 20% paying some or all of the tuition themselves on a sliding scale. Buttigieg opposes free college tuition for all students because he believes it unfairly subsidizes higher-income families at the expense of lower-income people who do not attend college, a position distinguishing him from other progressives who support free college tuition for all.
In June 2019, Buttigieg said: "We will remain open to working with a regime like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the benefit of the American people. But we can no longer sell out our deepest values for the sake of fossil fuel access and lucrative business deals." He supports ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.
In 2018, Buttigieg said he favored Medicare for All. During his presidential campaign, Buttigieg has promoted "Medicare for All Who Want It" (a public option for health insurance). He has spoken favorably of Maryland's all-payer rate setting. Buttigieg has described "Medicare for All Who Want It" as inclusive, more efficient than the current system, and a possible precursor or "glide path" to single-payer health insurance. He also favors a partial expansion of Medicare that would allow Americans ages 50 to 64 to buy into Medicare, and supports proposed legislation (the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act), that would "create a fund to guarantee up to 12 weeks of partial income for workers to care for newborn children or family members with serious illnesses."
In August 2019, Buttigieg released a $300billion plan to expand mental health care services and fight addiction.
Buttigieg supports Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and has drawn attention to the Trump administration's aggressive deportation policies. He defended a resident of Granger, Indiana, who was deported after living in the U.S. for 17 years despite regularly checking in with ICE and applying for a green card.
Buttigieg has said Trump has been reckless in sending American troops to the southern border, and that it is a measure of last resort.
In a June 2015 piece in the South Bend Tribune, Buttigieg came out as gay. By coming out, Buttigieg became Indiana's first openly gay elected executive. He was the first elected official in Indiana to come out while in office, and the highest elected official in Indiana to come out. Buttigieg was also the first openly gay Democratic presidential candidate, and the second overall, after Republican Fred Karger, who ran in 2012.
On December 14, 2017, in a post on Facebook, Buttigieg announced his engagement to Chasten Glezman, a junior high school teacher. They had been dating since August 2015 after meeting on the dating app Hinge. They were married on June 16, 2018, in a private ceremony at the Cathedral of St.James in South Bend. This made Buttigieg the first mayor of South Bend to get married while in office. Chasten uses his husband's surname, Buttigieg. Buttigieg and his husband plan to have children in the near future, he revealed on The Carlos Watson Show in September 2020.
Awards and honors
In 2015, Buttigieg was a recipient of the Fenn Award, given by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library. It was given in recognition of his work as mayor. In June 2019, to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, Queerty named him one of its "Pride50" people identified as "trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people". In October 2019, at the Golden Heart Awards, run by God's Love We Deliver, Buttigieg was awarded the "Golden Heart Award for Outstanding Leadership and Public Service". In August 2020, Equality California, an LGBT-rights organization, gave Buttigieg and his husband Chasten their Equality Trailblazer Award.Attitude, an LGBTQ publication, named Buttigieg their Person of the Year in 2020, in recognition of his groundbreaking run for the presidency.
^Gambino, Lauren (March 23, 2019). "Pete Buttigieg for president? Long-shot stands out in crowded field". The Guardian. Retrieved March 30, 2019. Like many of his rivals, he offers a stark contrast to the President in style and substance. Buttigieg is the son of a Maltese immigrant; a U.S. Navy veteran who took leave from his civic day job to serve in Afghanistan; a Harvard-educated Rhodes scholar; a devout Christian and a polyglot and bibliophile who learned Norwegian to read books by an author in Norway whose work had not yet been translated to English.