President-elect Biden named Buttigieg as his nominee for Secretary of Transportation in December 2020. His nomination was confirmed on February 2, 2021, by a vote of 86–13, making him the first openly gay Cabinet secretary in U.S. history.[c] Nominated at age 38, he is also the youngest Cabinet member in the Biden administration and the youngest person ever to serve as Secretary of Transportation.
Buttigieg has been involved with the Truman National Security Project since 2005 and serves as a fellow with expertise in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He was named to the organization's board of advisors in 2014.
Shortly after losing the 2010 Indiana State Treasurer election, Buttigieg ran for the Democratic nomination for mayor of South Bend in 2011. In a PBS Michiana – WNIT broadcast, he expressed his desire to reinvigorate South Bend, especially with respect to job creation and education. Buttigieg campaigned on other issues, such as pursuing international investment, increasing presence of police and other safety professionals, and improving city services. Buttigieg won his primary election against four opponents on May 3, 2011, receiving 7,663 votes.
Buttigieg was elected mayor of South Bend in the November 2011 general election with 10,991 of the 14,883 votes cast, or 74 percent of all votes. He defeated Republican nominee Norris W. Curry Jr. and Libertarian nominee Patrick M. Farrell. Buttigieg took office in January 2012 at the age of 29, becoming the second-youngest mayor in South Bend history[e] and the youngest incumbent mayor, at the time, of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents.
Before Buttigieg took office, Jiha'd Vasquez, a 16-year-old black boy, was found hanging from an electrical tower on April 14, 2011. Vasquez's backpack, on the ground near his body, had several items missing, according to Vasquez's mother Stephanie Jones. The coroner, Chuck Hurley, who had no medical experience, claimed Vasquez's death was a suicide; Buttigieg later appointed Hurley to serve as interim police chief. Vasquez's body was cremated without an autopsy being conducted. Jones attempted to get Buttigieg to investigate her son's death, but he did not, fearing "potential political risks." According to Jones, Buttigieg told her to call his office, but she never got a response. Jones and South Bend NAACP legal redress chairman Tom Bush claimed the event was a cover-up, with Bush saying he suspected the Ku Klux Klan may be involved and hoped for a federal investigation, but did not expect it, saying "the only reason this will get done is if you’re on a microphone yelling and screaming." When Buttigieg's presidential campaign was asked about the incident by a reporter in 2019, they did not give a response. In 2019, Jones and St.Joseph County coroner Mike McGann argued that the case should be reopened; however, sheriff William Redman said he would not consider reopening the case unless further evidence came to light.
After a federal investigation ruled that South Bend police had illegally recorded telephone calls of several officers, Buttigieg demoted police chief Darryl Boykins in 2012.[f] Buttigieg also dismissed the department's communications director, who had discovered the recordings but continued to record the line at Boykins's command. The police communications director alleged that the recordings captured four senior police officers making racist remarks and discussing illegal acts.
Buttigieg has written that his "first serious mistake as mayor" came shortly after taking office in 2012, when he decided to ask for Boykins's resignation. Backed by supporters and legal counsel, Boykins requested reinstatement. When Buttigieg denied his request, Boykins, as the city's first African-American police chief, sued the city for racial discrimination, arguing that the taping policy had existed under previous police chiefs, who were white. Buttigieg settled the lawsuits brought by Boykins and the four officers out of court for over $800,000. A federal judge ruled in 2015 that Boykins's recordings violated the Federal Wiretap Act. Buttigieg came under pressure from political opponents to release the eight tapes, but he said that it was not possible to release seven of them, citing the Federal Wiretap Act. It was unclear if releasing the eighth tape would violate any laws. St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Steve Hostetler heard a case for the release of five cassette tapes. Judge Hostetler ruled that the cassette tapes must be released to the South Bend City Council in May 2021.
As mayor, Buttigieg promoted a number of development and redevelopment projects. Buttigieg was a leading figure behind the creation of a nightly laser-light display along downtown South Bend's St.Joseph River trail as public art. The project cost $700,000, which was raised from private funds. The "River Lights" installation was unveiled in May 2015 as part of the city's 150th anniversary celebrations. He also oversaw the city's launching of a 3-1-1 system in 2013. Buttigieg's administration oversaw the sale of numerous city-owned properties. One of Buttigieg's signature programs was the "Vacant and Abandoned Properties Initiative". Known locally as 1,000 Properties in 1,000 Days, it was a project to repair or demolish blighted properties across South Bend. The program reached its goal two months before its scheduled end date in November 2015. By the thousandth day of the program, before Buttigieg's first term ended, nearly 40 percent of the targeted houses were repaired, and 679 were demolished or under contract for demolition. Buttigieg took note of the fact that many homes within communities of color were the ones demolished, leading to early distrust between the city and these communities.
While mayor, Buttigieg served for seven months in Afghanistan as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy Reserve, returning to the United States on September 23, 2014. In his absence, Deputy Mayor Mark Neal, South Bend's city comptroller, served as executive from February 2014 until Buttigieg returned to his role as mayor in October 2014.
In 2015, during the controversy over Indiana Senate Bill 101 – the original version of which was widely criticized for allowing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people – Buttigieg emerged as a leading opponent of the legislation. Amid his reelection campaign, he came out as gay and expressed his solidarity with the LGBTQ community.
Buttigieg announced in 2014 that he would seek a second term in 2015. He won the Democratic primary with approximately 78 percent of the vote, defeating Henry Davis Jr., the city councilman from the second district. In November 2015, he was elected to his second term as mayor with over 80 percent of the vote, defeating Republican Kelly Jones by a margin of 8,515 to 2,074 votes. After winning reelection, Buttigieg signed an executive order helping to establish a recognized city identification card in 2016.
To improve South Bend's downtown area, Buttigieg proposed a Smart Streets urban development program in 2013. In early 2015 – after traffic studies and public hearings – he secured a bond issue for the program backed by tax increment financing. Smart Streets was a complete streets implementation program aimed at improving economic development and urban vibrancy as well as road safety. Elements of the project were finished in 2016, and was officially completed in 2017. The project was credited with spurring private development in the city.
In a new phase of the Vacant and Abandoned Properties Initiative, South Bend partnered with the Notre Dame Clinical Law Center to provide free legal assistance to qualifying applicants wishing to acquire vacant lots and, with local nonprofits, to repair or construct homes and provide low-income home ownership assistance using South Bend Housing and Urban Development funds.
Studebaker Building84 in 2014
The City of South Bend partnered with the State of Indiana and private developers to break ground on a $165million renovation of the former Studebaker complex in 2016, hoping that the redevelopment would facilitate industrial and housing units. This development is in the Renaissance District, which includes nearby Ignition Park. In 2017, it was announced that the long-abandoned Studebaker Building84, also known as Ivy Tower, would have its exterior renovated with $3.5million in Regional Cities funds from the State of Indiana and another $3.5million from South Bend tax increment financing, with plans for the building and other structures in its complex to serve as a technology hub. The website Best Cities later ranked South Bend number 39 on its 2020 list of the 100 best small cities in the United States, citing Buttigieg's efforts to revitalize the Studebaker factory and Downtown South Bend.
Under Buttigieg, the city also began a smart sewer program, the first phase of which was finished in 2017 at a cost of $150million. The effort used federal funds and by 2019 had reduced the combined sewer overflow by 75 percent. The impetus for the effort was a fine that the EPA had levied against the city in 2011 for Clean Water Act violations. In 2019, Buttigieg asked for the city to be released from an agreement with the EPA brokered under his mayoral predecessor Steve Luecke, in which South Bend had agreed to make hundreds of millions dollars in further improvements to its sewer system by 2031.
The Common Council approved Buttigieg's request to enable his administration to develop a city climate plan in April 2019; Buttigieg signed a contract with the Chicago firm Delta Institute to help develop it. In late November 2019, the city's Common Council voted 7–0 to approve the resultant Carbon Neutral 2050 plan, setting the goal of meeting the Paris Agreement's 26 percent emission reduction by 2025, and aiming for a further reductions of 45 percent by 2035.
Supporting private development in South Bend was another initiative Buttigieg continued during his second term. By 2019, the city had seen $374million in private investment for mixed-use developments since Buttigieg had taken office, by one estimate. By another account, Downtown South Bend saw roughly $200million in private investment during Buttigieg's tenure.
Protestors marching in response to the death of Eric Logan
After a white South Bend police officer shot and killed Eric Logan, an African-American man, in June 2019, Buttigieg was drawn from his presidential campaign to focus on the emerging public reaction. Police body cameras were not turned on during Logan's death. Soon after Logan's death, Buttigieg presided over a town hall meeting attended by disaffected activists from the African-American community as well as relatives of the deceased man. The local police union accused Buttigieg of making decisions for political gain. Buttigieg secured $180,000 in November 2019 to commission a review of South Bend's police department policies and practices, to be conducted by Chicago-based consulting firm 21CP Solutions.
Many African-Americans have accused Buttigieg of racism for his response to this and other incidents. Former South Bend councilman Henry Davis Jr. alleged that Buttigieg "perpetuated and tolerated" systemic racism in the city. Michael Harriot, senior writer at The Root, accused Buttigieg of "racist paternalism" for saying that children of color lack role models that promote the value of education. Many African-Americans also point to Buttigieg's firing of Darryl Boykins, South Bend's first black chief of police. Boykins claimed that Buttigieg used a scandal—involving secret tapes of white police officers making racist comments—as a pretext for firing him.
For the 2018 midterms, Buttigieg founded the political action committee (PAC) Hitting Home PAC. That October, Buttigieg personally endorsed 21 congressional candidates. He also later endorsed Mel Hall, Democratic nominee in the 2018 election for Indiana's 2nd congressional district. Buttigieg campaigned for Joe Donnelly's reelection campaign in the United States Senate election in Indiana. Buttigieg campaigned for candidates in more than a dozen states, including early presidential primary states such as Iowa and South Carolina, a move indicating potential interest in running for president. He officially announced his run on January 23, 2019.
Succession as mayor
Buttigieg announced that he would not seek a third term as mayor of South Bend in December 2018. Buttigieg endorsed James Mueller in the 2019 South Bend mayoral election. Mueller was a high-school classmate of Buttigieg's and his mayoral chief of staff, and later executive director of the South Bend Department of Community Investment. Mueller's campaign promised to continue the progress that had been made under Buttigieg's mayoralty. Buttigieg appeared in campaign advertisements for Mueller and donated to Mueller's campaign. Mueller won the May 2019 Democratic primary with 37 percent of the vote in a crowded field. In the November 2019 general election, Mueller defeated Republican nominee Sean M. Haas with 63 percent of the vote. Mueller took office on New Year's Day 2020.
On January 23, 2019, Buttigieg announced that he was forming an exploratory committee to run for President of the United States in the upcoming 2020 election. Buttigieg sought the Democratic Party nomination for president. If he had been elected, he would have been the youngest and first openly gay American president. Amid the start of Buttigieg's presidential effort, on February 12, 2019, he published his debut book, autobiographyShortest Way Home. Two months later, Buttigieg officially launched his campaign on April 14, 2019, in South Bend.
As Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg has worked on re-organizing the department's internal policy structure, including carrying out a thorough review process of rules enacted under the Trump administration. For example, Buttigieg reinstated an Obama-era pilot program which ensures local hiring for public works projects on May 19, 2021, with the goal of helping minorities and disadvantaged individuals. This program had been revoked in 2017 during the Trump administration, when the Department of Transportation returned to rules established during the Reagan administration, which banned geographic-based hiring preferences.
Buttigieg addressed the African American Mayors Association in late February 2021 to discuss systemic racism. He argued that misguided investments in the federal transport and infrastructure policy had contributed to racial inequity. In early March 2021, Politico noted that Buttigieg had mentioned racial equity in almost every interview he gave to the press as it related to his work at the department. In late June 2022, Buttigieg launched a $1 billion Reconnecting Communities pilot program to establish racial equity in roads. Using money from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, the program aims to reconnect cities and neighborhoods divided by roads through projects such as rapid bus lines, pedestrian walkways, and planning studies.
Early into his tenure, Buttigieg noted that the United States's actions surrounding road traffic safety is lacking and suggested improving the design of roads. Also, while acknowledging how the United States fell behind other developed countries with respect to bicycle and pedestrian safety, Buttigieg encouraged greater focus on human behavior in infrastructure policy. Likewise, in March 2021, Buttigieg indicated he was open to tolls on Interstate 80, but not the tollage of bridges, suggesting "big picture solutions" instead, like a mileage tax. However, the Biden administration did not include a gas tax or mileage tax in the infrastructure plan it released that month.
In June 2021, the White House created a task force to address supply chain disruptions, with Buttigieg as one of its leaders. By October 2021, global supply bottlenecks had resulted in record shortages of household goods for American consumers. Buttigieg cited high demand and the pandemic as some of the causes for the disruptions, while predicting that the disruptions would "continue into next year".
After the 2021 birth of his twins, Buttigieg took a parental leave. This became a point of prominent criticism and ridicule from conservative and Republican figures. Some political analysts have noted homophobic tones to the attacks on Buttigieg's decision to take a parental leave. After conservatives criticized him for taking a paternity leave, Buttigieg declared that he would not apologize for "taking care of my premature newborn infant twins. The work that we are doing is joyful, fulfilling, wonderful work." According to his department, Buttigieg had been on paid leave since mid-August 2021, where for a month he was "mostly offline except for major agency decisions and matters that could not be delegated", and he "has been ramping up activities since then", making many media appearances in early October 2021. The White House had approved Buttigieg's leave.
After passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Insider called Buttigieg "the most powerful transportation secretary ever", as the department now has $210 billion of discretionary grants to award.
By early 2023, Buttigieg faced criticisms regarding several instances of serious issues that had occurred in United States passenger aviation during his time as Secretary of Transportation.
On February 3, 2023, a freight train carrying vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether derailed along the Norfolk Southern Railway in East Palestine, Ohio. Emergency crews conducted a controlled burn of the spill at the request of state officials, which released hydrogen chloride and phosgene into the air. As a result, residents within a 1 mi (1.6 km) radius were evacuated. Buttigieg tweeted on February 13 the Department would "use all relevant authorities to ensure accountability and continue to support safety." On February 23, 2023, NTSB released a preliminary report stating that the wheel bearings overheated, with temperatures as high as 253 °F (123 °C) above the ambient temperature. In the weeks following the derailment, the Transportation Department, under Buttigieg, did not move to reinstate the 2015 rail safety rule aimed at expanding the use of better braking technology. Buttigieg's Transportation Department was contemplating stripping down brake safety rules even further. Buttigieg has faced criticism from figures on different ends of the political spectrum for his response to the derailment, receiving criticism from Democrats such as Nina Turner and Ilhan Omar and Republicans such as J. D. Vance and Anna Paulina Luna. Republican senator Marco Rubio called for Buttigieg to resign, and criticized him for not having yet visiting the disaster site at the time. Former president Donald Trump also criticized Buttigieg for not having yet visited the site while conducting a visit of his own. In March 2023, Buttigieg appeared on CNN, telling the cable news network that he had failed to anticipated the fallout from the derailment and erred in not visiting East Palestine sooner.
On May 8,2023, President Biden and Secretary Buttigieg announced the cyber-creation and cyber-expansion of www.flightsrights.gov.
Buttigieg supports The Junk Fee Prevention Act. If enacted on the federal level it would lower fees relating to spending money on some forms of entertainment, hotel rooms, airport related services, and travel.
During his 2020 campaign for the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg proposed spending $1trillion on U.S. infrastructure projects over the next ten years, estimating that the plan would create at least six million jobs. The plan focused on green energy, protecting tap water from lead, fixing roads and bridges, improving public transportation, repairing schools, guaranteeing broadband internet access, and preparing communities for floods and other natural disasters.
Buttigieg supports abortion rights and the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which blocks federal funding for abortion services except in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother is in danger. He favors amending civil rights legislation, including the Federal Equality Act so that LGBT Americans receive federal non-discrimination protections.
Buttigieg supports expanding opportunities for national service, including a voluntary year of national service for those turning 18 years old.
Buttigieg supports abolishing the death penalty, moving toward reversing criminal sentences for minor drug-related offenses, and eliminating incarceration for drug possession offenses.
In 2019, Buttigieg called for the United States to decriminalize mental illness and addiction via initiatives such as re-entry programs. Also, he aspired to decrease incarceration rates because of mental illnesses or substance use by 75 percent during his first term as President of the United States.
Buttigieg speaking at the 2019 Iowa Federation of Labor Convention
Buttigieg identifies as a democratic capitalist and has decried crony capitalism. He has entertained the possibility of antitrust actions against large technology companies on the basis of privacy and data security concerns. During the Democratic primary, he supported deficit and debt reduction, arguing that large debt makes it harder to invest in infrastructure, health and safety.
In July 2019, he released a plan to strengthen union bargaining power, to raise the minimum wage to $15, and to offer national paid family leave.
Buttigieg speaking to the Iowa State Education Association in 2020
Buttigieg's education plan includes a $700billion investment in universal full-day child care and pre-kindergarten for all children from infancy to age five. Buttigieg has also proposed tripling Title I funding for schools serving students predominately from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. Other goals include doubling the amount of new teachers of color in the next 10 years, addressing school segregation with a $500million fund, paying teachers more, expanding mental health services in schools, and creating more after-school programs and summer learning opportunities.
His plan for debt-free college has called for expanding Pell Grants for low-income students, as well as other investments and reversing Trump's tax cuts for the wealthy. Under Buttigieg's college plan, the bottom 80 percent of students with respect to income would have received free education, while the top 20 percent would have paid for at least some portion of their tuition. Buttigieg has opposed free college tuition for all students because he has believed universally free tuition unfairly subsidizes higher-income families at the expense of lower-income individuals who do not attend college. This position distinguished Buttigieg from his competitors in the 2020 presidential election.
In June 2019, Buttigieg said: "We will remain open to working with a regime like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the benefit of the American people. But we can no longer sell out our deepest values for the sake of fossil fuel access and lucrative business deals." He supports ending U.S. support for Saudi Arabia in Saudi Arabia's war in Yemen.
In 2018, Buttigieg said he favored Medicare for All. During his presidential campaign, Buttigieg has promoted Medicare for All Who Want It, which includes a public option for health insurance. He has spoken favorably of Maryland's all-payer rate setting. Buttigieg has described Medicare for All Who Want It as inclusive, more efficient than the current system, and a possible precursor or "glide path" to single-payer health insurance. He also favors a partial expansion of Medicare that would allow Americans ages 50 to 64 to buy into Medicare, and supports proposed legislation, the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, that would "create a fund to guarantee up to 12 weeks of partial income for workers to care for newborn children or family members with serious illnesses."
In August 2019, Buttigieg released a $300billion plan to expand mental health care services and fight addiction.
Buttigieg supports Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and has drawn attention to the Trump administration's aggressive deportation policies. He defended a resident of Granger, Indiana, who was deported after living in the U.S. for 17 years despite regularly checking in with ICE and applying for a green card.
Buttigieg has said Trump has been reckless in sending American troops to the southern border, and that it is a measure of last resort.
Buttigieg came out as gay in a June 2015 piece in the South Bend Tribune, becoming Indiana's first openly gay elected executive. He was the first elected official in Indiana to come out while in office and the highest elected official in Indiana to come out.
Buttigieg announced his engagement to Chasten Glezman, a junior high school teacher, in a December 14, 2017 Facebook post. They had been dating since August 2015 after meeting on the dating app Hinge. They were married on June 16, 2018, in a private ceremony at the Cathedral of St.James. This made Buttigieg the first mayor of South Bend to get married while in office. Chasten uses his husband's surname, Buttigieg.
In July 2022, Buttigieg established his permanent residence in Traverse City, Michigan, which is Chasten's hometown, and registered to vote in Michigan.
Awards and honors
Buttigieg was a 2015 recipient of the Fenn Award, given by the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in recognition of his work as mayor. To mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in June 2019, Queerty named him one of its "Pride50" people—"trailblazing individuals who actively ensure society remains moving towards equality, acceptance and dignity for all queer people". At the Golden Heart Awards, run by God's Love We Deliver, Buttigieg was awarded the "Golden Heart Award for Outstanding Leadership and Public Service" in October 2019.Equality California, an LGBT-rights organization, gave Buttigieg and his husband Chasten their Equality Trailblazer Award in August 2020.Attitude, a British gay lifestyle magazine, named Buttigieg their 2020 Person of the Year to recognize his groundbreaking run for the presidency.
^Gambino, Lauren (March 23, 2019). "Pete Buttigieg for president? Long-shot stands out in crowded field". The Guardian. Retrieved March 30, 2019. Like many of his rivals, he offers a stark contrast to the President in style and substance. Buttigieg is the son of a Maltese immigrant; a U.S. Navy veteran who took leave from his civic day job to serve in Afghanistan; a Harvard-educated Rhodes scholar; a devout Christian and a polyglot and bibliophile who learned Norwegian to read books by an author in Norway whose work had not yet been translated to English.