Buttigieg is taking nothing for granted

By Jack Colwell, The South Bend Tribune

Opinion

SOUTH BEND--How do you campaign for an office that you've already won?

Pete Buttigieg won't touch that question. Nor should he.

Just about anybody who knows anything about South Bend politics would say that Buttigieg, 29-year-old Democratic nominee, will be the city's next mayor. Although Buttigieg won the "real" election convincingly in the highly contested May Democratic primary, he wants to avoid coming across as presumptuous, as taking the voters for granted.

"The political graveyard is filled with people who took it for granted," Buttigieg said in an interview after his return from two weeks of active duty with the Navy in San Diego. He is ready to claim one new title with promotion soon from ensign to lieutenant junior grade in the Navy Reserve, service he expects to continue.

Buttigieg said he plans an all-out campaign for mayor, even though more Republicans crossed over to the Democratic primary to vote for him than voted for Republican mayoral nominee Wayne Curry in the low-turnout GOP primary.

His campaign headquarters, still open since the primary, still has volunteers at work. He is concentrating on fundraising, with a $150-a-person golf outing scheduled Thursday. Corporate sponsorships for the event run as high as $2,500.

Although Buttigieg raised by far the most in contributions in the four-candidate primary, he spent just about all of it.

"We didn't want to lose a squeaker and have a lot left in the tank," Buttigieg said. No squeaker. He won with a surprising 55 percent of the vote. But just as now, Buttigieg didn't want to take victory for granted.

The fall campaign, Buttigieg said, will include emphasis again on voter identification and get-out-the-vote techniques. Mike Schmuhl, his primary election campaign manager, is staying on after declining other opportunities.

Buttigieg this time seeks more than his own win. He wants election of "a team of candidates."

He wants a team of Democratic council members who will work together during the campaign, uniting on common themes, and then working with each other and with him after the Nov. 8 election.

Expectations are high. Business leaders in particular look to Buttigieg to spur economic development and improve the image of South Bend.

Buttigieg knows that. He knows as well that he cannot solve decades-old problems of the city in the first 90 days as mayor or even in a complete term.

A mayor, as with a president or governor, can't do much without cooperation of the legislative branch, the branch controlling spending priorities.

That's one reason for meetings he has held with the council candidates of his party. He hopes to hit the ground running, with a council willing to run in the same direction, in pursuit of his oft-proclaimed goal of jobs through economic development.

Buttigieg said he has now identified more than 30 groups, governmental, quasi-governmental and private, that touch in some way on South Bend economic development.

"They are not always coordinated very well," Buittigieg said. All mean well, he stressed, but they need to work together, not duplicate efforts or compete with each other.

Buttigieg said he would use "the convening power" of the mayor to bring these groups together, sitting at the same table, to plan a unified rather than scattered-goal effort on economic development.

While a mayor has no authority over the school system, Buttigieg said he also would seek to bring city and school officials and community employers together to seek improvement in education and the image of South Bend schools.

Will Buttigieg win to become the youngest mayor in city history?

No.

Well, he appears already to have won the "real" election, and he would still be 29 years old when taking office. His birthday is Jan. 19.

But Schuyler Colfax became mayor at 28.

Not that Schuyler Colfax. Not the vice president. It was his son, Schuyler Colfax III, elected mayor in 1898. Mayor Colfax, a Republican, won nomination after a GOP convention battle in which a group of city leaders joined to dump the incumbent Republican mayor. Legend has it that the convention was stacked with a large contingent of Oliver factory workers brought in to cheer wildly for Colfax.

Buttigieg won't need to stack any audiences, but he intends to campaign all-out for the office he really has already won.