Mayor addresses College Democrats
Matthew McKenna | Sunday, January 18, 2015
South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke to College Democrats on Sunday about his career, the relationship between the city and Notre Dame and his hopes for the future.
Buttigieg said he is excited to be South Bend’s Mayor during such a monumental time in the history of the city.
“When I got in the mayoral race in 2011, South Bend showed up on a Top 10 list in Newsweek of dying cities in America,” he said. “Part of that is a consequence of an economic readjustment that we’ve spent the last 50 years dealing with. The wider world knows about South Bend because of Notre Dame, but South Bend did not grow up around Notre Dame. It grew up around the car industry.”
Although he acknowledges the hardships the community has faced in the past, Buttigieg said he believes his election as a 29 year-old was a message from the community to look toward the future.
Despite his age, Buttigieg said he ran for mayor because he believed he had experience, which prepared him to be a better agent of positive change for the city than those who were currently in municipal leadership.
“I had a business background so I was a little more familiar with the nuts and bolts of that side, and I felt I could get something done,” he said. “I also focused on the relationship I had with the city. I had grown up here. I left, and I found myself with others that were from the city.
“We would get together for beers and would look at the papers and worry about what has going on here and question some of the leadership decisions. That’s when I knew I really wanted to help.”
The city is beginning to believe in itself again, Buttigieg said, and part of that is a function of an improved relationship with the University.
“I’ve been extremely excited about students deciding to get more involved in their community,” he said. “We have a relationship with the University now on every level, from economic development to the arts to public safety. That has really started to transform life in the city.”
Buttigieg said he sees the city level as the most dynamic and fun level of government, and the state of the current national government makes it the level in which one is most likely to be able to improve things.
“The city level is the level that touches the most people most immediately,” he said. “Things like trash pickup, roads without holes in them, safe drinking water, these are things that we take for granted. All of these things can impede how you want to live your life, and all of these things are dependent on how good your city is.”
Buttigieg said his experience serving in Afghanistan from February to September of last year as a member of the U.S. Naval Reserves helped him in his career and gave him a new perspective on cities and those that work hard to support them.
“There was a perspective shift that was a very healthy thing for sure,” he said. “Around here, I’m a little overexposed in the media. When I got in a uniform, I was cut down to size very quickly. When it was my turn to clean the toilets, no one cared if I had a day job.”
The nature of his job as mayor has allowed him to bypass party lines and work for the good of everyone in the community, Buttigieg said.
“If more people in the federal government had been mayors or at least had some experience with local government, I think we’d be a little more likely to get something done,” he said. “Just think about it, if the government shut down in South Bend, there would be no water and civilization would break down in 36 hours. You can’t shut down anything.”
While city members may not agree on all of his perspectives, Buttigieg said cohesion is present on the local level.
“I work with people that would never support me for national office, but they see things exactly the way I do when it comes to local problems and how we’re going to try and fix them,” he said.