The South Bend Tribune
Ready to deliver the fresh start that South Bend needs
October 30, 2011
The next mayor of South Bend will preside over two important dates in the life of the city. First, in 2013, will come the 50-year anniversary since Studebaker closed its doors, permanently changing the local economy. And in 2015, we will mark the 150-year anniversary of the establishment of the city itself. More than at any point in our lifetimes, our city is both compelled and poised to answer the question: What will our future look like?
Now is the time to take stock of our assets and our moment so that we can plan a way forward to make South Bend the best possible place to live, work and raise a family.
Our assets are many and they are extraordinary. We boast a beautiful river, five colleges and universities, a rich tradition of hard work and innovation, a diverse population and a highly competitive location. Moreover, we have today an atmosphere of renewal in key leadership positions throughout our community. Not only is South Bend about to choose a new mayor in our first open-seat election in 24 years; we will also see at least four new members of the Common Council and a newly named school superintendent. There is new leadership at our county Chamber of Commerce, at our downtown-support organization, DTSB, and in many important areas of our business community.
Our physical space, too, is changing. New development is linking downtown South Bend closer to Notre Dame. The west side is receiving a major investment in the form of the Kroc Center, which will provide new recreational opportunities for a part of town that has often felt under-served. New housing has sprung up along our river -- a river we must learn to turn and face more effectively. And for the first time since 1968, our city will soon have a high school downtown once again.
All transitions bring both risk and opportunity -- and we must seize this moment of opportunity to find new solutions to our most difficult problems. That's why I have laid out an agenda that seeks to harness today's new leadership and atmosphere of change and use it to improve our local economy, city services, public safety, and education.
We need new solutions to create more jobs. When it comes to economic development, the solution begins with coordination. Numerous overlapping entities and organizations deal with economic development here, and I have become convinced that the talented and well-intentioned people in these groups need tools for better coordination so they do not duplicate or interfere with one another's work. The next mayor must set the table for a shared business plan and one of the first things I plan to do in office is to convene an economic summit of local stakeholders and invited outside experts. The summit will aim to deliver a shared vision of our economic future and tangible steps to move closer to it. My goal is to help organize -- not impose -- an economic vision for our community, and I can already see that it must include a plan for regional cooperation, university partnerships, poverty reduction, work force development, state and federal relations, downtown growth and international competitiveness for our city.
We need new solutions to improve access to city services, which is why I have proposed a 311 phone line that provides a "one-stop shop" for residents who require solutions from their city government. Behind this simple interface will stand a citywide effort to achieve a true customer-service mentality, whether the "customer" is a citizen needing help with code enforcement or a responsible business looking for an answer on building permits.
We need new solutions to drive good outcomes in our education system. Every parent, every child and every investor counts on our school system to provide a competitive business environment and a sound quality of life. The school system is independent of city government, but I am convinced the mayor can and must help. In other communities, I have seen education roundtables succeed in finding ways to support schools -- from shared purchasing that frees up administrative money for the classroom, to new linkages between the schools that prepare tomorrow's graduates and employers who will hire them.
And we need new solutions to confront our problem of vacant and abandoned buildings. The Lincoln Way West corridor, which represents the first impression of our city to most visitors who use the airport, is just one of many parts of South Bend facing persistent and concentrated vacancy in homes and businesses. There are no silver bullets for this legacy of our 1970s-era population loss, but I plan to create a task force to uncover new ways to identify absentee landlords who have walked out on vacant properties.
I decided to run for mayor out of concern for the problems that we face when it comes to jobs, quality of life, safety and vacant buildings. But I also ran with faith in our city's ability to address our challenges. Since launching my campaign, my faith has been multiplied by the energy and commitment around the porches, classrooms, churches and factory floors of this city.
People in this community are ready for a fresh start -- and I am running for the opportunity to deliver it.
Pete Buttigieg is the Democratic candidate for South Bend mayor.