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Pete Buttigieg: How His Campaign Impacted South Bend And What Could Be Next

Justin Hicks/Indiana Public Broadcasting

Former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropped out of the race for Democratic nominee almost a week ago, but many believe it's not the end of his political career. Some locals are beginning to think about the impact his campaign had on South Bend and what the future may hold now that he’s out of the running.

When Pete Buttigieg, the young, openly gay, mayor of a small midwestern town, first announced he was running for president, many people thought the idea was crazy. 

“There were some people thinking well he’ll just make a fool of himself, get nowhere,” said Jack Colwell. He writes a political column for the South Bend Tribune. 

“Well that didn’t happen. He got quite far,” Colwell said.

Buttigieg did get quite far in the race. He was able to garner some local support, then national, and eventually he became a household name. Buttigieg went on to win the Iowa caucuses, though it was overshadowed by errors. 

That’s why Colwell thinks some of Buttigieg’s biggest successes may have actually ended up hurting his campaign. 

“The Iowa caucuses, he actually won the most delegates but he didn’t get the big bounce that normally a candidate would get because on election night, instead of being featured as pulling off this great upset, all the stories were about nobody could count the votes, nobody knew who won,” he said.

David Campbell is a political scientist and a professor at the University of Notre Dame. He said Buttigieg may have relied too much on the Iowa caucuses, something he called the “Jimmy Carter strategy”.

“The springboard that he got coming out of Iowa just wasn’t bouncy enough to ensure that he would continue to succeed,” Campbell said.

Buttigieg also struggled to connect with black voters.

“Some of that was the legacy of his time as Mayor in South Bend. Just as much is the fact that Joe Biden has a lock on that constituency because of his connection to Obama that was hard for any other candidate to successfully make inroads into that group,” Campbell said.

Buttigieg was scrutinized for how he handled the shooting death of Eric Logan by a white South Bend police officer in June. He was met with protests from members of Black Lives Matter on the campaign trail.

After not doing well in the South Carolina primary, Buttigieg suspended his campaign.

Local Black Lives Matter member Katheryn Redding said she feels vindicated. 

“I think it’s something to be celebrated because I think we dodged a bullet,” Redding said.

Redding and another Black Lives Matter member, Emmanuel Cannady, traveled to some of Buttigieg’s campaign rallies to protest. Cannady said when Buttigieg first announced he was running for president, he supported him.

“I said here’s this intellectual individual that understands what systemic racism is and understands that we need to solve this," he said.

But Cannady said he changed his mind after feeling like Buttigieg didn’t do enough to hold the South Bend Police Department accountable after the Logan shooting. 

“What Mayor Pete says and what he does are very different things. The City of South Bend is struggling,” he said.

Redding agrees. She feels like Buttigieg turned his back on the African-American community in South Bend.

“If he wasn’t capable of managing a city of 100,000, then to leave him with the United States in his fate, it wasn’t something we could allow to happen,” Redding said.

He may not be the president in 2020, but many Buttigieg supporters and political experts say it's not the end of his political career. If he decides to run for president in the future, he’ll need to find a way to get more black support. But Redding and Cannady both said there’s not much he could do to change their minds. 

Another presidential run isn’t the only possibility. Campbell, the political scientist from Notre Dame, thinks Buttigieg has the potential to be a vice presidential candidate or a cabinet member if a democrat wins the election. 

“I think Pete Buttigieg is a name people are going to continue to say for years to come.”

And as far as the future of South Bend? Campbell said it looks bright.

“Pete’s candidacy has raised the profile of the city and I think it has given people in the city a sense of confidence that one does not need to run away from the fact that you’re from South Bend,” he said.

Colwell, the South Bend Tribune political columnist, ageed the City is in a better place now than it was before the campaign.

“I think it’s good for the image of South Bend because for a long time it was regarded as where Studebaker used to be, a rust belt city that lost its big manufacturer. So it did change the attitude of people in the city from one of decades of doldrums to a more optimistic outlook.”

But some members of Black Lives Matter say the campaign caused some people to overlook the issues in South Bend and made them seem less important.

“I’m just afraid people are going to forget about South Bend now that we’re not in the middle of the spectacle of Mayor Pete running for president and that the people who are still suffering in the community will now suffer in silence," Cannady said.

With Buttigieg’s Presidential campaign over, locals have a chance to reflect on how the city has been impacted. It has also left people questioning what’s next for ‘Mayor Pete’ and what’s next for the city.

Contact Annacaroline at or follow her on Twitter at @AnnacarolineC16