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Who is Pete Buttigieg?

By Jacob Shropshire, Edited by Brendan Monroe – Originally Published by The Millennial Source on December 24, 2020. (Photo: Elizabeth Frantz, Reuters)

On December 15, United States President-elect Joe Biden announced his former opponent Pete Buttigieg as his nominee for the secretary of transportation.

Buttigieg is the first of Biden’s former rivals that the president-elect has named to a position in his cabinet.

The appointment is being seen as a step toward political growth for the former mayor who sent unexpected ripples through the Democratic primaries.

“This position stands at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead of us. Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the DOT, the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better,” said Biden in a statement announcing the selection. “I trust Mayor Pete to lead this work with focus, decency, and a bold vision – he will bring people together to get big things done.”

Pete’s early years

Peter Paul Montgomery Buttigieg was born on January 19, 1982, to parents Joseph and Jennifer Buttigieg, and was raised in South Bend, Indiana. Both parents taught at the University of Notre Dame, his father as a literature professor, and his mother as a linguist.

Being the son of two Notre Dame professors, Pete unsurprisingly excelled academically. He became his class valedictorian at Saint Joseph High School and later graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University as a history and literature major in 2004.

Buttigieg was awarded the Rhodes scholarship and spent the next few years studying at the University of Oxford, where he graduated with a B.A. in philosophy, politics, and economics.

During his years in university, Pete involved himself in politics as much as possible. He later worked as a director by a consulting firm in Washington, DC, and eventually worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign in 2004.

Buttigieg is fluent in eight languages, including English, Arabic, Dari Persian, French, Italian, Maltese, Norwegian and Spanish.

South Bend’s Mayor Pete

In January of 2012, Pete took office as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He was only 29 years old at the time, making him the youngest mayor to be elected in a US city with a population of over 100,000.

In 2015, after returning to South Bend from his time in the military, Pete came out publicly as gay, becoming Indiana’s first openly elected gay executive. In the same year, Buttigieg met Chasten Glezman, a junior high school teacher. The two announced their engagement in 2017 and were married in 2018.

Buttigieg faced scrutiny as mayor in 2015 after federal authorities discovered that South Bend’s police were illegally wiretapping some officers’ phone calls. Buttigieg later asked for the resignation of the police chief Darryl Boykins, the city’s first Black police chief. Boykins later sued the city on discrimination charges. Buttigieg later admitted the event was his “first serious mistake as mayor.”

Despite the scandal, Buttigieg won reelection with more than 80% of the vote in November of 2015.

During his time as mayor, Buttigieg secured US$200 million in private investment in downtown South Bend. He is credited with sparking massive job growth and transforming the city through programs that repaired and rehabilitated abandoned buildings and other various urban development projects.

Military career

Pete enlisted in the military in 2007 and in 2009 became a Navy Reserve Officer. During his first term as the mayor of South Bend in 2014, he was deployed to the Bagram Air Base in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he took part in the Afghan Threat Finance Cell and worked to disrupt the financial structures of terrorist networks.

During this stint, he also worked as an armed driver for his commander, a job Buttigieg referred to as “military Uber.” He also was in charge of protecting the vehicle from ambushes, telling CNN in 2019 that “It often fell to me to make sure that the vehicle was either being driven or was being guarded properly.”

It was also in Afghanistan where Buttigieg learned Dari, a dialect of Persian, to communicate with locals.

By the end of his time in the Middle East, Buttigieg had earned the rank of lieutenant and received the Joint Service Commendation Medal.

Candidacy for president

In April 2019, Buttigieg (who many just referred to by this point as “Mayor Pete”) launched his bid for the US presidency, becoming the first openly gay man to make a serious presidential run.

At the beginning of the race, Buttigieg lacked the name recognition required of many to last in the race. By the end of the year, however, Mayor Pete was trailing the longtime leaders of the party – Joe BidenBernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren – by only a few points.

Throughout the campaign, Pete brought much to the table as a Democratic candidate. As a member of the LGBT community, he provided inroads for groups like the Human Rights Campaign and the Family Equity Council. 

Buttigieg also defines himself as a devout Christian, challenging what many see as a contradiction between faith and sexuality. In a speech in 2019, Buttigieg addressed the former Governor of Indiana, and current vice president, Mike Pence, saying, “if you have a problem with who I am, your quarrel is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

Pete’s military career created connections with veterans’ groups and military circles, where he received considerable support. His overseas experience and formal education, as well as his wide range of spoken languages, also gave him credibility in international relations.

In February, Pete finished in a virtual tie with Sanders in the Iowa caucus, but he could not sustain the momentum through the rest of the primaries. In March, Mayor Pete dropped out of the race and endorsed Biden for president. “Our goal has always been to unify Americans to defeat Donald Trump and to win the era for our values,” he told his supporters at his final rally. “The best way to keep faith with these goals and ideals is to step aside and to help bring our party and our country together.”

Buttigieg as transportation secretary

Speculation as to the role Mayor Pete would play in the Biden administration has been rampant since he made his endorsement in March. After Biden defeated President Donald Trump, Buttigieg’s name was mentioned for secretary of Veterans Affairs, ambassador to the United Nations, and ambassador to China, in addition to secretary of transportation.

Now, with his nomination as secretary of transportation, Buttigieg has become the first openly gay person to be nominated for a permanent cabinet position.

The position will likely be an important one, given Biden’s commitment to creating greener transportation networks. On the Biden-Harris transition website, the administration promises to “Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options.”

There has been some question about Buttigieg’s qualifications for the job. As mayor, transportation infrastructure was not a major part of his agenda. However, some funding from private investment into the city was put toward improving the city’s transportation.

Additionally, some of his supporters were disappointed in the relative unimportance of the role of transportation secretary compared to some of the other roles Buttigieg was reportedly considered for.

However, this relative unimportance may come in handy when the Senate is tasked with reviewing and approving all cabinet positions. Unlike some of Biden’s other cabinet selections, Buttigieg does have some level of political charge around him. 

In the event that the Senate remains Republican after the Georgia Senate runoff election on January 5, it would be significantly easier to confirm Buttigieg in a less pivotal role.

If confirmed as transportation secretary, Buttigieg is expected to make transportation more environmentally friendly and to challenge the history of highways being constructed through disadvantaged neighborhoods.

The pick is far from an early one, but a place in Biden’s cabinet is unsurprising and will provide Buttigieg, a relatively young politician, the opportunity to build his resume.

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