By ERIN BLASKO, The South Bend Tribune
SOUTH BEND — Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced on Tuesday his intention to run for re-election, saying in an email to supporters, “Now it’s time to make sure our neighborhoods, our economy and our administration keep heading in the right direction.”
The announcement came as a surprise to no one. But, it's unclear what opposition he'll face for the job.
The mayor talked about running for a second term before leaving in April for Afghanistan, where he served a six-month tour with the U.S. Navy Reserve. He’s been preparing for it since April 2012, four months into his first term in office.
Finance reports show Buttigieg’s campaign organization raised more than $253,000 last year alone, finishing with more than $240,000 cash-on hand.
Updated financial statements are not due until January, about the same time as the beginning of the filing period for 2015 city elections.
“I’m ready for a second term, to build on the great work we’ve done since you brought me into office to deliver a fresh start for South Bend,” Buttigieg, a 2000 graduate of South Bend St. Joseph High School, said.
That work includes ongoing efforts to stimulate the local economy, address issues of vacant and abandoned housing and combat group violence, he said.
A graduate of Harvard University and a former Rhodes Scholar, Buttigieg first ran for mayor in 2011, winning a crowded Democratic primary before going on to win the general election with 74 percent of the vote.
He replaced Stephen Luecke, who had served as mayor for a record 14 years before announcing his retirement in 2010.
With Buttigieg running for re-election as an incumbent, the Democratic primary is likely to be much less crowded this time around.
Two of his primary opponents in 2011 — State Rep. Ryan Dvorak and county auditor-elect Mike Hamann — said Tuesday they have no plans to run again.
A third, Barrett Berry, could not be reached comment.
Meanwhile, no other Democrats have expressed interest in the seat, county Democratic Party Chairman Jason Critchlow said.
“Not a single one, not even a whisper,” Critchlow said Tuesday. “Over the past two months I’ve had my ear out, asking folks … and I don’t think there will be a credible candidate come out and challenge the mayor at this time.”
Vice President of the Common Council Derek Dieter, who had been rumored as a possible primary challenger, apparently won't be this time around. He recently announced his candidacy for city clerk instead.
Critchlow said he believes Buttigieg would be “tough to beat” in a primary, adding, “He’s got a pretty good track record in the city.”
“I think he’s had a lot of tough issues he’s had to deal with, but he’s also had a lot of successes he can point to in the city that are going to be tough for someone to argue with,” Critchlow said.
Also, “He’s got the (campaign) infrastructure in place, he’s got financing, he’s got support still, I believe, from the community at large, and that’s going to be difficult to challenge,” Critchlow said.
Who Buttigieg might face in a general election isn't apparent either.
County Republican Party Chairman and Executive Director Jake Teshka said a handful of Republicans are considering running for mayor but declined to name names.
“We do have some candidates who are thinking about it,” Teshka said Tuesday. “We’re helping them work through the decision-making process.”
Ideally, Teshka said, a favored candidate will emerge before the primary, allowing the party to focus its attention and resources on the general election.
“I think in South Bend, you have to focus all of your energies on the general election if you’re a Republican, so I think that definitely would be the goal,” he said. “But we’ll see what happens.”
Teshka said he believes Buttigieg could be vulnerable in a general election based on his handling of issues such as the police tapes controversy, which remains the subject of litigation.
“I do think there’s some discontentment with how Mayor Pete has performed his duties as mayor,” Teshka said. “Obviously, you’ve got the whole police tape scandal and how all that plays out. There could be some weak points there.”
Critchlow, for his part, mentioned community activist Mario Sims, of Citizens United for Better Government, as a possible Republican candidate. Sims previously ran for county council as a Republican.
Sims dismissed such speculation Tuesday, saying in an email, “I am honored someone would suggest the possibility of my running for mayor but I deny any thought of doing so.”
Even if Sims wanted to run, his felony record — he has convictions for burglary, rape and criminal deviate conduct — would likely prevent him from doing so.
Wayne Curry, the Republican candidate for mayor in 2011, could not be reached for comment Tuesday. It is unclear if Curry still lives in South Bend.
Buttigieg, for his part, said he's looking ahead. “It’s been a productive and fulfilling term, but there is much work to do,” he said.