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Pete Buttigieg Fails His Way to Political Stardom

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Pete Buttigieg Fails His Way to Political Stardom

Postby Happy Mom » Thu Aug 08, 2019 1:40 pm

Pete Buttigieg fails his way to political stardom
by Nic Rowan
| August 01, 2019 11:00 PM


Pete Buttigieg wants to be the youngest president ever elected. To get there he will have to prove to voters that his record as the youngest-ever mayor of South Bend, Indiana, prepared him for it. When he took office in January 2012, he promised to rebuild and unify Indiana's fourth-largest city around his data-friendly leadership. If it was a success, the challenge would be to convince voters that he can scale those achievements up to the office of the leader of the free world.

It's far from clear, however, that his experience is one to boast of. It may instead be a cautionary tale.

"When it comes to economic development, there is no magic wand, no easy fix. If it was easy, somebody would have done it a long time ago. But I think leadership can make a difference," Buttigieg said at his inaugural address, before signing an executive order creating a formal ethics code for city employees. These were Buttigieg's first acts as mayor, and they made his mission clear: Mayor Pete stood for accountability.

But it didn't take long for the realities of governance in a city of 100,000 people to cloud that vision. Buttigieg received a call from the FBI later in the month informing him that his police chief, Darryl Boykins, was being investigated in a possible wiretapping scandal within the department. Boykins was popular, well respected, and the first black man to head the department. The federal information put Buttigieg in a bind, so he sat on it for two months before making a decision.

Then, in March, without explanation, he demanded Boykins' immediate resignation. The police chief complied then reneged. The South Bend Common Council, as the city council is called, objected. After a backlash, Buttigieg revised his original decision of "You're fired" to "You're demoted."

That's when race became a factor. Boykins acknowledged that he recorded his officers' phone calls, but only because he was informed that some white officers uttered racial slurs against him. This revelation roused South Bend's activists, who demanded Buttigieg release the tapes. For a mayor publicly committed to accountability, such transparency would be a no-brainer. But the mayor refused, fearing it would put him in legal jeopardy. As questions about the investigation mounted, Buttigieg remained silent. When Common Council held a meeting to address the issue, Buttigieg skipped town for a baseball game.

It got worse from there.

Activists from the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition called for Buttigieg's impeachment in the summer of 2012. He talked them down. Boykins sued Buttigieg, accusing the mayor of demoting him with "racial animus." Buttigieg settled with him out of court in 2013 and strapped nearly everyone else involved in the spat with a nondisclosure agreement. But the hits kept on coming. Over the next few years, black officers left the department in droves, and lawsuits piled up. The city of South Bend has spent more than $2 million on the peripheral legal fallout from the Boykins incident.

Buttigieg called the years-long debacle his "first serious mistake." But demoting Boykins was more than a one-off error. The decision still haunts Buttigieg's mayorship. It set the playbook for his tenure and still makes it nearly impossible for him to govern South Bend effectively.

It is difficult for a mayor to make the leap to the presidency. Rudy Giuliani's campaign flamed out despite his leadership of New York City, which has a budget larger than most states and is on the front lines of the war on terror. Indeed, Giuliani became something of a national leader after 9/11. Yet America's Mayor couldn't make the leap to the big stage. This year, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is one of Buttigieg's competitors for the Democratic presidential nomination. He is largely a figure of ridicule, polling between 0% and 1%. A Siena poll in June found him less popular in New York than President Trump.

Buttigieg's technocratic failure is nowhere more evident than in the police department, where, because of unresolved turmoil, Boykins' successors have become mired in race-related scandals and calls for their resignations. Ron Teachman, the New England native selected to replace Boykins, frequently clashed with the Common Council over transparency. Black officers called for Teachman's resignation, citing intra-departmental racism. Others chided Buttigieg in 2014 for allowing Teachman to "run amok" in the department.

The worst of these complaints involved a 2013 incident in which Teachman allegedly refused to help a black police officer break up a fight outside a recreation center. Buttigieg defended Teachman unequivocally, prompting the disgusted resignation of Patrick Cottrell, president of the Board of Public Safety, and the lasting distrust of Common Council President Derek Dieter.

"Pete is a fraud," Cottrell said of the mayor's handling of the incident, adding that Buttigieg's management of the police polarized South Bend. When Ryan O'Neal, a white officer, shot and killed a black man named Eric Logan in June, anti-Pete animus hit an inflection point. O'Neal had not turned on his body camera, and Buttigieg was slow to respond to the public outcry. By the time he admitted that he had problems being transparent, Buttigieg and current Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski had earned widespread distrust from the black community.

Buttigieg's presidential campaign appeared to be close to meltdown. He canceled nearly a week of events and rushed back to South Bend. But his presence seemed to make it worse. Protesters heckled him, and a stunned Buttigieg fumbled.

"You're running for president, and you want black people to vote for you? That's not going to happen," a woman told the mayor at a protest in South Bend. "Ma'am, I'm not asking for your vote," Buttigieg responded. The comment was meant to sound diplomatic, but many found it snotty and out-of-touch. It also screamed amateur hour; no candidate should ever tell a potential voter they're not asking for a vote.

A town hall meeting Buttigieg held a week after the shooting embarrassed him yet further. Sitting on a stage in a local theater, Buttigieg teared up as people screamed at him and cut off his apologies mid-sentence. The next day, every cable network played his blunder on a loop. Soon, former government officials and black activists were calling for Mayor Pete's resignation and his retirement from politics.

"Right now there's no way he can stand on the stage and honestly talk about the issues pressing this country when he can't even successfully address the dire issues of race, lack of diversity, and poverty, not to mention the homeless issue in this city," Mario Sims, a pastor in South Bend, said. "If you can't even address those issues in a city of 100,000, my God, how can you address those issues in 50 states?"

It's an important question, and Buttigieg has yet to answer it. Even if he does take responsibility, as he seemed to do in the first presidential primary debate, his past failures reveal the hard fact that Mayor Pete is not good at running a city.

Consider his signature economic recovery plan for South Bend: Knocking down and rebuilding 1,000 homes in 1,000 days ostensibly to remove blight and attract companies. Buttigieg's enthusiasm for the project helped bring new businesses to downtown South Bend. But at a cost. Once he began knocking down houses, Buttigieg had already lost the trust of black residents, who were disproportionately affected by the plan. To many, it seemed that Buttigieg wasn't aiming to help the city but gentrifying it at the expense of minorities.

When people from those neighborhoods complained, Buttigieg responded badly. As he presented the Vacant & Abandoned Properties Task Force Report at an open meeting in 2013, he praised his administration for using "data-driven decision-making" to identify the neighborhoods with the most blight and for recommending that city government require owners to demolish the houses. "Thanks to their work, instead of flying nearly blind, we now have a deep and rich body of data to guide policy decisions," he said.

But as the mayor wrapped up his PowerPoint presentation, South Bend resident Joseph Shabazz stood up and expressed concern that sudden spikes in property value would not help low-income people, could destroy historically black communities, and "change the neighborhood completely." Buttigieg told Shabazz not to worry: His data-collection system ensured that no one would get forced out of their homes. "So residents living nearby, I hope, we'll see their prosperity grow," he said. It was not a convincing response. After Buttigieg finished speaking, Shabazz stormed out of the room. He could be heard muttering, "You should be ashamed of yourself," as he left, according to the South Bend Tribune.

Shabazz's fears were not unfounded. Common Councilwoman Regina Williams-Preston told the Indy Star this year that Buttigieg's plan, while successful in bringing businesses to South Bend over the 1,000 days, ignored the character of the neighborhoods it bulldozed.

"Homes were coming down blocks at a time," she told the Star. "Dust was in the air, and people were wondering what is going on, and why are we just tearing down homes? They'll [the city] say they were targeting vacant homes, but they didn't really understand the community."

The same misunderstanding marked Buttigieg's attempts to alleviate South Bend's gun violence. After an "unacceptably violent" summer in 2012, Buttigieg instituted a "data-driven" commission to combat it. The South Bend Group Violence Intervention, based on Boston's Operation Ceasefire, convened in 2013. The strategy called for police to profile places where crime seemed most likely to occur and crack down hard on the most violent offenders. Police were told to round up everyone else and deliver a clear message: Stop the shooting, or else. These meetings, called "call-ins," would be hosted by mentors, and, according to the mayor, would convince offenders to abandon violence.

But the program went sour quickly. Without cooperation with police, violence continued to rage. When a shooting killed two people in July 2013, Buttigieg denounced it but to no avail. About a week later, while speaking at a vigil for those killed, Buttigieg was in the middle of praising the South Bend Group Violence Intervention when shots rang out in a nearby alley.

A scandal the next year rocked the program. One of the the program's mentors, Isaac Hunt Jr., was arrested on charges of pushing his wife to the floor, beating her, and threatening to shoot her. "Everybody involved in this initiative will come together, we'll have conversations, and we'll figure out how to make sure the initiative can carry forward," Buttigieg said.

But the initiative is a failure. Analysis from the Washington Free Beacon shows that since Buttigieg took office, violent crime in South Bend has risen consistently, with a marked jump in aggravated assault, a sign of disordered policing. "There's no real plan to reach the community," Dieter said of the police department under Buttigieg. "That's why there is a distrust of the police department because the police really don't know how to do it."

Since the Boykins incident, the police department has been shuffled and reshuffled for nearly a decade. At the same time, Buttigieg's housing program displaced people in historically black neighborhoods who were fearful that the city does not care for their needs. Combined, those two problems create an environment in which police and communities fear each other, and the consequences could result in violence.

Through it all, Buttigieg has been the hapless technocrat. Data-driven solutions don't heal racial wounds. Numbers help identify problems, but using numbers alone to solve those problems marginalizes the people that the data deems least profitable to focus on and least worthy of personal attention from city leaders.

Cutting fat may work in the corporate world, but when grafted on to a police department, it means forcing out officers who complain about superiors. When repurposed to economic redevelopment in South Bend, it meant leveling historically black neighborhoods in favor of attracting wealthier developers.

"Pete has a black problem," said Rep. Marcia Fudge of Ohio, the former chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus after the Logan shooting. But the problem is not that Mayor Pete is a racist. Far from it.

Buttigieg is just a numbers guy. South Bend shows the limits of this approach, and how such bottom-line technocracy hurts minorities. The data haven't taught Buttigieg anything about the people he governs. As long as Mayor Pete relies entirely on data, the one thing the numbers do show is that they'll keep him out of the White House.

Nic Rowan is a media analyst at the Washington Free Beacon. ... Sq7TKnjsOA
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