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Cutting through the Mayor Pete hype

He's not universally beloved in the LGBTQ community.

by Rex Santus
Apr 15 2019, 7:06pm

Now that his candidacy is official, let’s get this out of the way: It’s pronounced BOOT-edge-edge.

Pete Buttigieg, colloquially known as Mayor Pete, officially announced his candidacy for president Sunday with a nicely timed cover story about him in New York Magazine.

If it seems like he came out of nowhere, that’s because he sort of did. Little more than a month ago, Buttigieg was nearly unknown on the national stage; now the press is hailing him as a breakout star in the 2020 race.

His highest-profile job so far is mayor of South Bend (since 2012), the fourth-largest city in Indiana with just 100,000 residents. Now he’s running for president against household names like Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke, and Elizabeth Warren.

And he's holding his own: Buttigieg is polling third in New Hampshire and Iowa, according to three recent polls, behind Sanders and Joe Biden. In the first quarter, he also out-raised a handful of his competitors — like Sens. Warren, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar — who have more fame and significantly meatier résumés.

His presidency would represent a few historic firsts: At 37, he'd be the youngest president ever elected, and he would also be the first gay president. Buttigieg has defended his relative inexperience by saying that nobody really knows what they’re doing when they win the White House.

“Nobody walks into the Oval Office knowing what it’s like to be president,” Buttigieg told Vox.

Here’s what you need to know about Mayor Pete and his plans for 2020 and beyond.

He’s more moderate than progressive

Buttigieg is positioning himself well to the right of the race’s progressives like Sanders and Warren. Buttigieg claims he supports Medicare for All, but his ideas for implementing the policy are far less aggressive than the legislation that Sanders, Warren, and three other 2020 contenders have sponsored in the Senate. For example: Buttigieg said Medicare for All would not end private insurance, unlike Sanders’ bill, which would prohibit insurance companies from offering the same coverage as government plans.

Furthermore, Buttigieg does not support tuition-free college education. Buttigieg has instead embraced the concept of “debt-free college,” which is essentially a euphemism for cutting tuition costs without making public education free in the U.S. He supports, for example, expanding Pell Grants for low-income students.

Apart from that, Buttigieg has been relatively vague about policy. Compare his ideas to, say, Elizabeth Warren's — she's released dozens of policy proposals outlining her 2020 agenda, as recently as Monday morning. Buttigieg’s website includes no issues pages for his 2020 policy proposals.

Buttigieg’s most famous political accomplishment is also his most controversial. As mayor, Buttigieg implemented a plan to revitalize South Bend, which expedited code enforcement to demolish 1,000 deteriorating houses in the same number of days. His plan, critics say, ignited rapid gentrification and pushed out people of color. Some black and Latinx residents of South Bend say it stoked racial tensions in the small city.

“I’m not sure we got that completely right,” Buttigieg told the Christian Science Monitor last week.

He was in the military

Buttigieg frequently flaunts his experience in the military on the campaign trail. He has more military experience than any recent president of the United States. Buttigieg’s official biography says that he served eight years in the U.S. Navy Reserve, from 2009 to 2017, enlisting before the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, the policy that forbade openly gay people from serving in the U.S. military.

He took unpaid leave as mayor in 2014 and deployed to Afghanistan for seven months.

Liberals praise him for seeming smart

Buttigieg is a graduate of Harvard University, and he was a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He reportedly speaks eight languages, including English, Norwegian, Maltese, Italian, French, Spanish, Dari, and Arabic. The media has fawned over Buttigieg’s perceived intelligence, with the New Republic pondering if he is a “genius” in a headline.

“Mayor Pete seems head-and-shoulders smarter than the other candidates running, and IMO that should count for quite a lot,” economist Alan Cole, for another example, tweeted in March.

The praise of Buttigieg’s smarts has triggered a small amount of backlash, with critics pondering why he is seen as so smart compared to his competitors, especially when he’s not even the only Rhodes Scholar of the bunch and another one of them founded the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

He was once a big fan of Bernie Sanders

In 2000, then-teenaged Buttigieg won the JFK Presidential Library’s “Profile in Courage” essay contest for writing about his now-opponent Bernie Sanders.

“Sanders’ courage is evident in the first word he uses to describe himself: ‘Socialist,’” Buttigieg wrote. “In a country where Communism is still the dirtiest of ideological dirty words, in a climate where even liberalism is considered radical, and Socialism is immediately and perhaps willfully confused with Communism, a politician dares to call himself a socialist? He does indeed.”

In those 19 years, Buttigieg’s ideology seems to have changed a bit. He now defines himself as a capitalist.

He’s singled out Mike Pence as his arch nemesis

Even more than he’s attacked President Donald Trump, Buttigieg has singled out Vice President Mike Pence as his principal target in 2020. Pence has a long history of opposition to the LGBTQ community and has been dogged by accusations that he supports conversion therapy for gay and trans people.

In 2000, for example, Pence’s campaign website said that federal money should be cut off from gay organizations and redirected to “institutions which provide assistance to those seeking to change their sexual behavior.”

Buttigieg is married to a man and identifies as Christian. He has leveraged both facts against Pence.

“That’s the thing that I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand,” Buttigieg said in early April. “That if you have a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Call it a cordial airing of disagreements between the two politicians from Indiana.

"I hope that Pete will offer more to the American people than attacks on my Christian faith or attacks on the President as he seeks the highest office in the land," Pence said last week.

He’s not universally beloved in the LGBTQ community

Despite being an openly gay candidate for president, Buttigieg is not a darling of the entire LGBTQ community — especially those who identify as leftists.

For starters, Buttigieg said in March that he did not agree with former President Barack Obama’s decision to commute the whistleblower Chelsea Manning’s 35-year prison sentence for leaking a cache of military documents to WikiLeaks. Manning, who is transgender, is currently in jail after spending nearly a month in solitary for refusing to testify before a grand jury about her interactions with WikiLeaks in 2010. LGBTQ activists have expressed outrage over Buttigieg’s lack of support for Manning.

Separately, Buttigieg has received backlash on the left for being staunchly pro-Israel in a time when Democratic presidential candidates and other progressive politicians are becoming more critical of the Israeli government. Buttigieg said that gay people get “strung up” in other countries in the region, like Iran. Critics have characterized Buttigieg’s comments as pinkwashing, or the distraction from an institution’s misdeeds by highlighting its friendliness to LGBTQ people.

“People like me get strung up in Iran, so the idea that what’s going on is equivalent is just wrong,” said during an appearance on The View.

Cover image: South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg announces that he will be seeking the Democratic nomination for president during a rally in the old Studebaker car factory on April 14, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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