He was valedictorian of his class at Saint Joseph High School, went to Harvard and holds degrees in politics, philosophy and economics from Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar. And now he is the second youngest mayor in his hometown, South Bend.
I recently had a conversation with Mayor Pete Buttigieg to talk about his first 15 months leading the city he was born and raised in.
Thursday’s, Just Before Six he talks about growing up in South Bend, some of the challenges he's face and the future.
“I remember the feeling of walking through that door on New Years Day 2012, snow blowing past the window and I thought, ok I know where I want to lead the city,” says Mayor Pete Buttigieg. “I know what I want to do but what am I going to do right now, right this minute.”
At 29 Pete Buttigieg became South Bend's second youngest mayor in the city's history preceded only by Schuyler Colfax III who was 28 taking office in 1898.
So what makes a Harvard and Oxford educated son of South Bend, who has seen a lot of the world, want to return home to become mayor.
“It's magical I mean to be able to have this impact in a place you grew up and call home, to go to places where you used to go to hang out with a friend and say, what if this could be different, what if they made different decision about this part of town,” says Mayor Buttigieg. “I don't think it would be interesting to be mayor of a town that did not mean so much to you.”
And he has fond memories of growing up in South Bend.
“I discovered independence through the bicycle so I had a little expanding radius that my parents would let me go, first to the end of the block,” says Mayor Buttigieg. “I was allowed to cross the street and then eventually it was where I could come downtown because we lived not too far from downtown. So I could come over the bridge and buy my own burger at McDonalds and really make use of the river.”
A downtown he desperately wants to see viable again.
“As long as I have been alive I have seen South Bend has been struggling to adapt to the new economy,” explains Mayor Buttigieg. “So the biggest change I think is the mentality, getting out of that almost post traumatic mentality a lot of people had about our economy.”
So what where the biggest challenges since walking into his office January 1, 2012?
“Well certainly the economy is something that is on my mind every day,” says Mayor Buttigieg. “Public safety has always been a challenge from day one, it always is, it's one of the basic thing that any government owes its citizens.”
And what of the police tape scandal that greeted right after taking office?
“It was a real difficult situation, one we could not have anticipated and it really through not just my office but I think the whole community,” says Mayor Buttigieg. “Because for better or worse what has happened has focused a light on the Police Department, but I also think as a result of that, we all wish it had evolved differently, we're going to have a better Police Department.
And while he took some heat that the police chief did not come from within the ranks, he says he respected the opinions of the committee he assembled to find a candidate. A new chief he believes will raise the department up.
“It is part of his responsibility to do a good enough job of leadership development, training, identifying promising new officers and promising capabilities in existing officers so that when it's his turn to move on the successor will come from within,” explains Mayor Buttigieg.
The mayor says if there was one thing he was naïve about it was the time it takes to get things done. But he sees a bright future for South Bend.
“You look at downtown and we could joke and say you could say tumble weeds blowing through downtown in the old ways, now it's different,” says Mayor Buttigieg. “There are people walking around, it's come to feel like a city again. It's got a long way to go there's no question of that but you can tell which way it's moving.”
Friday, Just Before Six I continue my conversation with the Mayor. We will take a walk downtown and talk specifically about his plans, what's working, what needs to change and where he sees the city in ten years.