James Mueller elected mayor of South Bend, takes reins from Pete Buttigieg
James Mueller was voted in as South Bend’s next mayor Tuesday evening, with 66% of the vote in early results.
Mueller defeated the Republican candidate, Sean Haas, who is a government teacher at LaVille High School. Tuesday was a municipal election day across the country, and the city of South Bend voted for a few roles — mayor, commissioner, common council and city clerk.
The mayoral election has drawn more eyes to the city than in past years because of the rise of South Bend mayor and current Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, who has strongly endorsed Mueller as his successor. Buttigieg is serving the end of his mayoral term, having been re-elected in Nov. 2015 with over 80% of the vote.
Mueller, former chief of staff to Buttigieg, received 37% of the vote in the primary election in May, while Sean Haas, a former public school teacher and veteran, ran unopposed for the Republican Party. South Bend has not elected a Republican mayor since Lloyd Allen’s re-election in 1967.
A South Bend native, Mueller received his bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame, triple-majoring in mathematics, history and philosophy. After earning a Ph.D in oceanography at the University of Delaware, Mueller worked almost four years as a policy adviser on energy issues for Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.
In an interview with the South Bend Tribune, Mueller said he plans on creating more opportunities for at-risk youth to make the community stronger and safer.
“We must attract and support top-quality teachers, making it easier for them to buy homes and put down roots in our community,” Mueller said. “We must set up partnerships with unions and technical schools to provide skills and training opportunities. We must encourage local employers to partner with our educational institutions to design programs that meet their hiring needs, so graduates have jobs waiting for them.”
Milton Lee, executive director of Downtown South Bend, said his experience working with Mueller for the past few years solidified his decision to vote for him.
“I’ve developed a professional relationship with James Mueller [that] has always been thoughtful, introspective, bright and committed to the city … he’s moving the city forward, I don’t think there’s a better choice than him,” Lee said at Mueller’s watch party at Corby’s Irish Pub on Tuesday.
Mary Jenkins, who also attended the watch party, said she has lived in South Bend most of her life and believes Mueller is the best choice for mayor because he can continue Buttigieg’s policies to reform the city.
“I absolutely love Pete and what he’s done with the city, and I believe that if he had more community support he would have been able to get much more done,” Jenkins said. “I believe that Mueller is pulling for that community support and he’s been engaging with the community, making sure he’s heard.”
Both Mueller and Haas said they would prioritize addressing the city’s issues with violent crimes, which has been at the forefront of voters’ concerns.
Mueller’s plan included strategies to reduce violence, strengthening relationships through community policing and improving resident participation, creating a diverse police force and reforming officer training and policies.
Haas said he would highlight building relationships between the community and police force, encouraging officers to police a specific area of the city, bringing the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program back to schools and increasing the department’s number of officers.
Karen Rinehart, a self-identified Republican, said she voted for Buttigieg during his last election. However, due to a number of issues, including “people leaving the South Bend school system” and “horrible infrastructure,” Rinehart said she volunteered — and voted — for Haas.
“I just believe he has his priorities straight,” Rinehart said at Haas’ watch party on election night. “… The current administration says everything is fine, and Mueller said he was just going to keep following Pete’s plan, and I’m like ‘uh, no, that hasn’t been working.’”
Haas received some backlash over comments he made during a debate with Mueller in October regarding police relations. He said he was critical of the “shadow of racism” in which all police work and American life takes place.
“I don’t believe in systemic racism,” Haas said at the time. “I believe there are bad actors in every single profession, whether it’s police officers, teachers, lawyers. There are bad examples but to blanket call an entire force racist on the actions of a few is irresponsible and, frankly, a lie.”
South Bend NAACP responded to Haas’ comments disagreeing with his view, but Haas maintained his initial comments.
Mueller, too, has been questioned repeatedly on his plans to mend the city’s relationship with voters of color, particularly in light of the police shooting of Eric Logan this summer and the firing of South Bend’s first black police chief Darryl Boykins in 2012, both of which occurred under Buttigieg.
Mueller will begin his term as mayor in January.