Candidates compete in city’s mayoral race
Megan Doyle | Monday, November 7, 2011
Three candidates are on the ballot for the mayor’s race in South Bend today, but a Notre Dame journalism professor said the city will continue to see a Democrat in office after the election.
Professor Jack Colwell, who was also a longtime political journalist, said Democrat Pete Buttigieg, a 29-year-old businessman, has long been the front runner in today’s race. Republican Wayne Curry and Libertarian Patrick Farrell will also appear on the ballot.
“Pete Buttigieg will almost certainly be the new mayor,” Colwell said. “There hasn’t been much doubt about that since the primary when he won really big, and South Bend tends to be a Democratic town anyway.”
Colwell covered politics for the South Bend Tribune for more than 38 years and still writes a political column for the paper. He said Buttigieg’s place as an early favorite is consistent with mayoral elections in the city’s history.
“The last time a Republican won it was 1967, so it was a long time ago,” Colwell said. “Buttigieg actually got a lot of cross-over Republicans voting for him in the primary, so he’s not only a favorite with Democrats but with Republicans, too.”
The major issue on South Bend residents’ minds has been economic development, Colwell said.
“[The debate has] mostly been who would be the most competent to help with economic development and bring jobs to the community and turn around the image of the city,” Colwell said. “Newsweek Magazine rated South Bend as a dying city, and the new mayor will certainly want to erase any image like that. That’s been the main thing they have been talking about, the image of the city and how to get the economy moving again in the city.”
Colwell predicted cooperation between the City of South Bend and the University would only grow as the new mayor takes office.
The University is the area’s largest employer and projects developed through Notre Dame, such as Eddy Street Commons and construction on campus, bring jobs to the area, he said.
“Notre Dame is a very important part of the economy, and if the city is looking to bring more jobs to the area I think it’s got to be working with Notre Dame because years ago this was known as a factory town,” Colwell said. “Studebaker was produced here, and there are some people who still seem to think Studebaker is going to come back some day, but it’s not. So it’s going to have to be small businesses, green businesses, businesses dealing with the computer age that will provide those jobs.”
Colwell said students should take an interest in the city’s economy, even if they do not plan to stay in the immediate area after graduation.
“If they take an interest in some of the economic development efforts or some new firm coming in, maybe they could, if they are looking for a job, end up in one [through those connections],” Colwell said.
If elected, Colwell said Buttigieg would be able to work well with administration and students from Notre Dame.
“He’s 29 years old, so he’s not that far away from college students that he doesn’t understand college students and their lifestyle,” he said. “So I would think he would have a very good relationship between the new mayor and Notre Dame.”
Buttigieg grew up in the South Bend area, and he is the son of professor Joseph Buttigieg in the University’s English department.
A young mayor with favorable attitudes toward Notre Dame is a greater opportunity for cooperation between South Bend and the University, Colwell said.
“I think [students] are taking a little more interest in things and trying to communicate with the city officials and trying to form committees to do that, and I think that’s good because they can make clear they aren’t just saying, ‘We want to be able to do whatever we want to do and throw parties,'” he said. “It shouldn’t be an adversarial relationship, but one of cooperation.”
The 2011 race is the first since 1997 without current mayor Steve Leucke, a Democrat, on the ballot. Colwell said the Republican camp traditionally does not present a strong challenge in the race.
“It’s quite similar to past elections because the Republicans, with a few exceptions, have not really put up a strong contender, and some of the races have really been laughers with the Democrat sure to win and the Republican not really putting up a fight at all,” Colwell said. “This time, the [Republicans] have put up a little bit more of a fight.”
The tone of debate, however, has been largely positive despite Buttigieg’s place as the easy favorite, Colwell said.
“It’s not been a divisive or nasty race at all,” Colwell said.
The young candidate’s success should be an example for students looking at careers in politics, he said.
“I think there’s tremendous potential for young candidates or young people to get involved in politics,” Colwell said. “In a lot of elections the turnout is pretty poor and they have trouble getting people to work at the polls and on the campaigns, so some bright young people who are willing to do that can step right in and have great positions. Get a good start and go on to whatever they want, whether it’s mayor or Congress or whatever.”