Mayor Buttigieg Builds on Experience, Plans for Second Term
By Alex Herrmann
In late January, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg formally filed for re-election. With more jobs, less crime and fewer vacant and abandoned houses in South Bend since the beginning of Buttigieg’s time in office, the young incumbent believes he has a strong case for re-election. He hopes to attack the city’s problems with a similar mindset during a second term.
“I don’t think anything has really changed in terms of what we’re about,” Buttigieg said in an interview with Scholastic. “We’re here in order to bring a new approach to city government, one that’s fresh, one that values innovation and questions habit. That’s an approach that’s served us well over the last four years, and we think it will serve us well over the next four years.”
The successes of Buttigieg’s first term, however, have generated opportunities for further growth. For example, one of the mayor’s flagship projects, the Vacant and Abandoned Properties Initiative, undertook the task of demolishing or rehabilitating 1,000 vacant and abandoned homes in South Bend in 1,000 days. With 301 days remaining, 774 properties have been addressed. But the removal and rebuilding of these homes brings new issues into focus.
“Getting the houses fixed or getting them down is critical, but it’s not enough,” Buttigieg says. “Nobody is thrilled to have a vacant lot. It’s better than a vacant house, but it’s not an answer. So, how are we going to use that land? What are we going to do with it?”
Large issues like vacant and abandoned homes, gun violence and economic recovery will always stay at the forefront of mayoral policy. But, Buttigieg says, South Bend has progressed far enough that other issues can come into focus.
“Parks and recreation is a big one,” Buttigieg says. “I had no idea how exciting and interesting that field could be until I really started digging into it. It goes to public art, public health, economic development, preservation of green space. There’s a lot there, and we have room to be a lot more strategic about it.”
The mayor’s vision for South Bend has been shaped by the time he spent in Afghanistan in 2014. The mayor, a member of the United States Navy Reserve, was called into duty and spent seven months serving as an intelligence officer. The time away from South Bend, particularly in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, gave the mayor a fresh perspective on the true role of cities.
“[Kabul] is a city where a lot of the things we take for granted here don’t work … Trash pickup, clean, safe drinking water, things we have routinely in our cities in America, they don’t. You can see how it affects people, to not to have access to that. I believe that governments in general, and cities in particular, exist in order to take care of the basics so that people can concentrate their efforts on what is really meaningful to them in their lives.”
Though South Bend already helps provide these basic needs to its residents, Buttigieg believes there is always more the city can do to help its residents achieve their goals. He cites a theory outlined in economist Edward Glaeser’s “Triumph of the City” that suggests that cities have the unique ability to generate chance encounters between like-minded people that increase their creative potential.
“That’s kind of the next level, finding out what we can do to not just take the basics off the table … but also proactively helping people by creating the places and the spaces where that kind of thing can go on,” Buttigieg says.
Buttigieg sees Notre Dame as a valuable part of this growth. He believes the connection between South Bend and the university is special within the landscape of American college towns.
“The relationship between South Bend and Notre Dame is the envy of a lot of college towns,” he says. “I was just at the US Conference of Mayors last week, and talking with other mayors of cities with universities, you can definitely feel the difference.”
The mayor believes this close bond can be an asset to Notre Dame students, who can use the community around them to get the most out of their time in South Bend.
“I want Notre Dame students to feel like they’re a part of South Bend,” he says. “I don’t care if you’re technically in the city limits, you’re part of South Bend as long as you’re here. We care about you and want you to do well. We also want you to engage in the city and find ways that it helps you meet your personal and educational goals. We want you to be better off as a student because your school was in South Bend and not some other place.”
Despite this healthy relationship, Mayor Buttigieg finds there is always room for improvement, much of which can come through productive dialogue with the leader’s of Notre Dame’s student government.
“Alex Coccia was the first student president to really engage us closely,” Buttigieg says, “and I think it really set a great tone. I’ve missed, unfortunately, a lot of Lauren and Matt’s tenure because I was away, but they continue to have that vision of engagement. I hope whoever comes in next will share that vision as well.”
By WNDU News
January 20, 2015 at 6:59 p.m.
To watch video clips from WNDU, click here.
SOUTH BEND, Ind.--- South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg filed paperwork on Tuesday morning to seek a second term as South Bend's mayor.
Buttigieg was first elected in November 2011 after securing 74 percent of the vote in the general election.
He says he is very excited to be able to serve the community again with a lot of work to do in the next four years.
“It's really exciting,” says Buttigieg. “I can't believe that four years have gone by since I ran the first time. When we ran, it was all about launching a fresh start for South Bend. I think we've been able to deliver on that promise but we know our work isn't done. So, here's our chance to keep moving South Bend forward and take things to the next level for our great city.”
According to a press release sent out by Buttigieg, the city has seen strong economic development successes and the announcement of 1,349 jobs last year alone.
The city has tackled blight by addressing 750 vacant and abandoned homes with a combination of repair efforts and demolitions.
On customer service, the city has launched programs like the 311 phone line to make it easier for residents and businesses to get quick answers and results.
From a fiscal standpoint, South Bend’s finances remain among the strongest in the state.
While 2011 was about a fresh start for the community, 2015 will be a year of celebration as the city marks its 150th anniversary.
Meanwhile, the election season will be an opportunity for the community to come together around a shared vision of cooperative government to move the city forward.
In a recent message to supporters, Mayor Buttigieg wrote, “We have only begun to unlock the potential of our community. What we do now will set the tone for the half-century to come.”
No one else has filed to run against him at this time.
As part of Up-and-Coming Mayors series, meet the hometown hero that serves his community and his country simultaneously.
NationSwell.com; Appears in Advancing National Service
By Thomas Shomaker
Most of us can’t take a seven-month leave of absence from work, but most of us don’t have as good of an excuse as Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind.
Mayor Buttigieg, better known as “Mayor Pete,” took office January 1, 2012, at the age of 29 — making him the youngest mayor in America to serve a city with more than 100,000 residents. He assumed command while still fulfilling his monthly commitments as a member of the Navy Reserve, but after about two years in office, he was called to serve abroad.
After a few months of preparation with his mayoral team, Buttigieg left South Bend in the hands of his Deputy Mayor Mark Neal and departed to perform intelligence counter-terrorism work in Afghanistan for seven months.
Buttigieg grew up in South Bend. His parents were transplants that arrived a few years before his birth to pursue work at the University of Notre Dame. Although his family found opportunity in the Indiana city, Buttigieg would come to learn while growing up that his hometown was a city in crisis: the all-too-familiar tale of a Midwestern town in an economic tailspin due to loss of industry. In South Bend’s case, it was the shuttering of the Studebaker car company, which until 1963, when its factories closed, was the largest employer in town.
After high school, Buttigieg left South Bend to pursue higher education, first at Harvard and later, at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After spending some time in the private sector doing consulting work, he joined the Navy as a reservist in 2008, putting into practice his childhood admiration of his great uncle, a family hero who died while serving in 1941.
The Great Recession hit South Bend hard, and Mayor Pete recalls following his hometown’s news from a distance.
“I was reading headlines from home,” says Buttigieg, “I was thinking, ‘Jeez, we gotta do more, we gotta change things a little bit back home.’ And then beginning to stop asking that question ‘why don’t they…’ and start asking that question ‘why don’t we?’ or ‘why don’t I?’”
Buttigieg returned to South Bend in 2008 and made his first foray into politics: a run for Indiana State Treasurer in 2010 (an effort he lost decisively to incumbent Richard Mourdock). While contemplating his next step, it became apparent that South Bend would soon have an open-seat mayor’s race for the first time in 24 years. Encouraged by his supporters in town, Buttigieg ran and was elected mayor on November 8, 2011, with 74 percent of the vote.
Buttigieg’s administration works hard to reinvent South Bend, while still acknowledging and celebrating its past, including work to redesign the old Studebaker campus into a turbo machinery facility in partnership with Notre Dame. By taking advantage of its excellent Internet capability (thanks to fiber optic cables that run through the town via old railroad routes), the city is attracting tech start-ups. Additionally, a 311 line has been set up for city residents.
But what might be called Buttigieg’s signature program is his plan to demolish, renovate or convert 1,000 vacant homes in 1,000 days. Since 1960, South Bend has lost about 30,000 residents, and empty homes pepper the entire town — attracting crime and lowering property values. This ambitious program, dubbed the Vacant & Abandoned Properties Initiative, was launched in February 2013. As of January 10, 2015, 747 properties have been addressed, putting South Bend is ahead of schedule.
Buttigieg recently announced that he is running for a second term, perhaps surprising those who assumed he was only interested in using the mayor’s office to further his career. He is also personally renovating a home in the neighborhood where he grew up, while continuing to give one weekend a month to the reserves. He sees the recent initiatives in South Bend as a way to establish the next era for the community and is excited about the way South Bend is once again investing in itself.
“I would like to believe that if the work matters to you,” says Buttigieg, “and the importance of it is what fills your sails, that people can see that.”
By Lawrence Greenspun and Rick Wartzman
Harvard Business Review
January 12, 2015
In 1989, Peter Drucker wrote an article for Harvard Business Review titled “What Business Can Learn from Nonprofits.” As the story goes, the concept was so counterintuitive that readers thought the magazine had made a huge typo; surely, it had gotten things backwards.
We wouldn’t be surprised if readers had the same reaction upon seeing the headline that sits atop this piece. What, after all, could government possibly teach business?
As it turns out, plenty. Despite the public sector’s blanket reputation as a bureaucratic backwater, there are countless examples of civil servants doing highly effective work. A number of cities, in particular, have become hotbeds of innovation, in no small part because of the fiscal strains they face.
With Washington mired in gridlock, local governments are being left “to grapple with super-sized economic, social, and environmental challenges,” Bruce Katz of the Brookings Institution has asserted. The good news: They’re responding “with pragmatism, energy, and ambition.” In fact, from our perch at the Drucker Institute — as we guide municipal leaders through the “Drucker Playbook for the Public Sector,” a training program distributed in partnership with the National League of Cities — we see local agencies performing particularly well in three areas.
The first is exemplified by South Bend, Ind., which is spurring rank-and-file workers to view themselves as innovators — a tough thing for many corporations to get right. As we’ve observed, it’s a mindset that starts at the top.
In the case of South Bend, that means Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a former Rhodes scholar and McKinsey consultant, who has been known to challenge city workers to tackle problems so thorny that they can only be solved with new kinds of thinking. In 2013, for instance, Buttigieg called for staffers in just 1,000 days to address, through rehabilitation or demolition, 1,000 vacant and abandoned properties blighting the city. They are now on pace to beat his ambitious timetable.
“Mayor Pete frequently says, ‘If we’ve never done it that way before, we’re on the right track,’” notes Scott Ford, the executive director of the city’s Department of Community Investment, which is responsible for economic development in South Bend. In turn, Ford has issued a mandate to his direct reports: He expects them to carve out real time to work on policy innovation, and not just concentrate on programmatic execution.
The results are tangible: Largely through the efforts of a single front-line employee and two middle managers working in Ford’s shop, South Bend last year streamlined and automated its tax-abatement petition process. Specifically, these staffers figured out how to slash the application from 22 pages to 4. What’s more, they made it so that those seeking tax relief now fill out a common online application, which allows the city to track their progress, monitor delays, coach them through any hiccups, and help them hit all deadlines.
It’s hardly an isolated example. In the past year, Ford’s people have also come up with fresh ideas to simplify accounting approvals, better track low-income housing tax credits, and speed up the transfer of funds.
That a place like South Bend has been able to cultivate this kind of bottom-up innovation makes sense. Although government workers are widely considered apathetic, research shows that many of them “enter public service because they are already committed to the mission of government” and are eager to make “a positive difference in the lives of the citizens they serve,” as Robert Lavigna, the author of Engaging Government Employees, commented recently. For companies trying to convey a strong sense of purpose to their workers, there is much to be learned here.
A second area in which cities are operating at a world-class level is in gathering and analyzing data to enhance performance. Take Louisville, Ky., which is pushing hard to constantly answer some key questions: What is city government doing? How well are we doing it? And how can we do it better?
Backed by the city’s LouieStat database, officials in 2014 were able to, among other things, reduce hospital turnaround times by an average of nearly 10 minutes for Emergency Medical Services personnel, making them available for more runs; slash the portion of restaurants, public pools, and other facilities in Louisville not receiving health inspections on a timely basis from 10.5% to less than 0.1%; and cut repair time for the city’s vehicle fleet to just 19 days from 77.
It’s not merely theory that government has much to teach business about using information effectively. Humana, the health insurer, helped Louisville get its performance-improvement team rolling a couple of years ago by offering pro bono support and teaching city staff about Lean and other management techniques. Humana executives still provide mentoring and coaching. But now, Louisville is also sharing with the company its own knowledge on a topic in which it has developed considerable expertise: linking performance management with innovation.
In addition, the city has become active in the Association of Internal Management Consultants, exchanging best practices with managers from Coca-Cola, Bell South, Turner Broadcasting, and other corporations. “It’s really a dialogue back and forth,” says Theresa Reno-Weber, Louisville’s chief of performance and technology. “We’re learning from one another.”
The third area in which cities are excelling is in arming residents with technology to improve government services. Among those leading the way is Boston, whose Citizens Connect mobile app allows people to report on potholes, graffiti, and other neighborhood nuisances. Now, the city is trying to take the technology even further by having it foster real civic engagement.
We are certainly not saying that all cities are well managed. Mindless bureaucrats abound in too many locations. Episodes of waste, fraud, and abuse are easy to cite, as well. When it comes to government, “it’s very easy for us—people associated with corporate entities or people doing research on the corporate world—to be somewhat condescending, dismissive,” Yvez Doz, an INSEAD professor, remarked last year.
But to see only the warts is to miss a huge opportunity. The best-run government operations have much to teach business, just as the best-run businesses have much to teach government. As Peter Drucker knew, the same holds true for nonprofits. Clearly, no sector has a monopoly on wisdom.
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.
November 18, 2014
Four years ago, some of you asked me to think about running for Mayor of South Bend. I was just 28 years old and it was hard to picture at the time, but with your support we won a five-way primary race in May 2011 and went on to win in November with 74% of the vote.
Since then, our hometown has made tremendous progress. Unemployment is down by almost one-third compared to when I took office. We’ve announced almost 2,000 jobs created in our City and tens of millions of dollars in new business investment.
We are more than halfway toward our goal of fixing or removing 1,000 vacant houses to strengthen our neighborhoods, and our downtown is more active than we’ve seen in decades.
Public safety has continued to improve, and our finances remain among the strongest in the state. Our use of technology has been transformed, and the new 311 system has simplified city services on everything from water bills to trash pickup.
It’s been a productive and fulfilling term, but there is much more work to do. As our city prepares to celebrate her 150thanniversary, we have only begun to unlock the potential of our community. What we do now will set the tone for the half-century to come.
The old debate about whether our city would live or die is over: South Bend is back. Now it’s time to make sure our neighborhoods, our economy, and our administration keep heading in the right direction.
Less than six months from now, South Bend will hold its May primary election for all City offices, including the Clerk, all nine Common Council seats, and the office of Mayor.
Filing doesn’t open until January, but I want you to know that I will be asking voters for four more years as mayor. 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.
We’ll work hard for this, just like last time. And I hope, like last time, that I can count on your help. None of our progress in South Bend would be possible without your support.
Stay tuned for more information as we set up our campaign organization for 2015—and as always, thanks for all you have done for me and for South Bend.
See you on the campaign trail,
Buttigieg reflects on Afghanistan and return to South Bend
By Pete Buttigieg
October 5, 2014, The South Bend Tribune
Six months ago, I stepped off of a C-17 transport plane at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, after leaving the mayor’s office on recall to active duty as a Navy officer. Leaving South Bend behind was tough, but made easier by the faith that I would return the next fall to a city stronger and better than ever. Now that I’m home, it is clear that this faith was well-placed.
South Bend went through a great deal in the half-year that I was away. Early spring violence, a downtown blackout, and a ferocious summer windstorm tested our community harshly. But South Bend rose to each challenge, as everyone from ordinary residents to city workers and administration leaders stepped up to support each other and our hometown. Meanwhile, new jobs multiplied, vacant properties were addressed, and gang-related gun violence fell sharply. Our community and administration have made me prouder than ever to call South Bend home.
While our city grew over the last spring and summer, so did I.
The switch from elected official to junior officer was humbling from my first days training in South Carolina. No longer in charge, it was my turn to take orders and instructions, whether that meant hitting targets at 300 yards on a rifle range, or cleaning toilets in our barracks.
In Afghanistan, I was assigned to a counterterrorism unit called the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell. Working long hours, seven days a week, we went after the most dangerous terrorist groups by targeting the connection between narcotics and insurgent financing.
I spent some days entirely on research and meetings, other days as a driver and armed escort for my commander and colleagues.
On the ground, the realities of war were unavoidable. The new normal included sprinting to the nearest bunker at the sound of insurgent rockets impacting nearby, learning firsthand how to tell the difference between a construction noise and a suicide bomb, and, on dozens of missions outside the wire, anxiously scanning the road at all times for signs of an attack.
Yet amid the strangeness of war, the most profound lessons of my time there came from observing just how familiar and universal the lives and hopes of ordinary Afghans are.
I spoke with Afghan men and women who defied Taliban death threats in order to vote and shape their future. I played with children who, though orphaned by the conflict, were no different than children at home in South Bend. Most Afghans I saw were focused on regular life — boys and girls going to school, families going to the market to pick up food for the evening meal, small businesses striving to grow and succeed.
Driving the main routes and neighborhood shortcuts of Kabul brought constant reminders that all people need cities that work for them. The Afghan capital has made great strides since the fall of the Taliban, but life is still tough. Maneuvering around potholes wider than my entire vehicle, passing ridges of garbage piled along the side of the road, sensing the anxiety in neighborhoods that police could not fully secure, I have never felt a greater appreciation for capable local government.
The experience reaffirmed my belief in the core purpose of any city administration: to make the basics of life easier for residents, so they may be free to spend their energy on what matters most. To deliver on essentials like smooth roads, clean water, trash service, and public safety, because only then can people focus on what they truly care about: family and friends, discovery and learning, business and enterprise, culture and recreation, life and love.
Perhaps this is what all public service is about, be it municipal, military, or otherwise: enabling people to live their lives, whatever that means to them. That purpose — simple yet challenging — gives meaning to everything we do in South Bend government, just as it did everything we did in uniform.
Last Thursday, I returned gratefully to a terrific community welcome at South Bend International Airport. Not everyone I served with got to come home the way that I did.
A hardworking sailor who volunteered with me to distribute humanitarian donations (including school supplies sent generously by the people of South Bend) is fighting to keep her leg, badly injured by gunfire. A well-liked soldier on our compound, who favored the same wooden bench that I did for relaxing and picking up a wireless signal to call home, was killed in action just days before he was supposed to go on leave to spend time with his family.
This war is not over, whatever you may hear. But one day it will be, and the measure of what we achieved at such great cost will be taken by asking whether Americans and Afghans live better, freer lives because we served.
For me personally, the legacy of serving in this war will be a renewed commitment to home, to the peaceful ways of life that all public and military service is intended to protect and support. I returned home with a new appreciation for the richness of the work, the play — the life — that goes on every day in our community.
The Afghans say, “Everyone’s own homeland is Kashmir to him.” And so, whatever it may mean to each of us in our own way, a place like South Bend will always be worth fighting for.
Buttigieg Opens Up About Military Mission
By ERIN BLASKO, The South Bend Tribune
June 22, 2014
It's about 6 p.m. in Afghanistan -- 10:30 a.m. in South Bend -- when Pete Buttigieg picks up the phone. Half a world away, in the middle of a war zone, he sounds like his usual self -- calm, confident, thoughtful.
Asked how he's doing, the intelligence officer with the U.S. Navy Reserve, who also happens to be the mayor of South Bend, responds, "Pretty well overall."
"We're just pretty excited that Election Day went well," he says, referring to the recent runoff for Afghan president, on June 14.
Accusations of fraud continue to hang over the election, threatening to destabilize the country, but turnout was good, according to initial estimates, demonstrating a desire on the part of everyday Afghans to participate in democratic elections.
"One of the things that's been pretty inspiring around here, all the Afghans I met in the last few days had their fingers inked to mark that they voted," he says.
For some voters, that exercise in democracy came at a high price. According to reports, insurgents cut off the fingers of 11 voters and killed at least 20 more in election-day attacks.
The 32-year-old acknowledges the safety concerns in the country.
"We are in a war zone, of course, and there are reminders of that all the time," he says. "But I'm also surrounded by trained professionals in the military, and I've also got excellent training.
"Part of my morning routine, of course, is I don't leave the room without a gun," he adds.
Intelligence, though, not fire power, is the weapon of choice in his line of work, he told The Tribune by phone this week from Afghanistan. He is currently deployed there for six months as part of a special unit of one.
The mayor left for the country in April and is set to return at the end of September. He's limited in what he can say about his mission.
"I can tell you that I'm working on the intersection of drugs, finance and terrorism," Buttigieg said, commenting for the first time in any detail on his work in the country.
"I'm assigned to a counterterrorism organization called the Afghan Threat Finance Cell," he continued. "My mission is to protect the homeland and target the most dangerous drug
trafficking organizations in Afghanistan."
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration-led unit, the cell investigates and disrupts financial networks that fund the insurgency in Afghanistan. Partner agencies include the Treasury and Department of Defense.
Buttigieg said he could not comment further on his mission, only that he works long hours. Not even his family knows for sure what he does.
"His work is classified, so we know absolutely nothing about it," his mother, Anne Montgomery, told The Tribune. "We end up talking about (Sunday supper), and I tell him things about South Bend I think he'd be interested in."
Montgomery said she and her husband, Joseph Buttigieg, a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, talk to Pete about once each week, on Sundays, often via Skype.
Montgomery, a Notre Dame graduate and retired professor at the university, noted that her son has been to Afghanistan before. He traveled there as a consultant with McKinsey & Co., a global management consulting firm based in the U.S., before becoming mayor.
Asked her thoughts on her son's mission, she said, "He's very interested in the work that he does, and that's all I really know. ... Every once in while I ask what he's doing and there's dead air."
'Legos of Afghanistan'
One subject that's not off limits is the weather.
"It's gotten pretty warm, but only recently," Buttigieg said. "People don't realize that Afghanistan has a mountain climate, so parts of the country can get pretty chilly."
Depending on season and location, temperatures in the country range from 50 below zero to 124 degrees, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
As for his living and working quarters, Buttigieg described them as utilitarian.
"I get up in the morning in my bed in a modified shipping container. I usually hit my head on the top bunk," he said. "I take a shower in the next room, which is also a shipping container. My office is also a shipping container. They're kind of like the Legos of Afghanistan."
But there's a simplicity to life on base that is appealing, he said.
"You get up in the morning and don't have to worry about what to wear (or) where your food's going to come from," he said. "Everything is organized here to help you concentrate on your mission."
As he does with his parents, Buttigieg speaks to Deputy Mayor Mark Neal and city staff once each week.
"I trust them to do the right thing and make the right decisions, but often they want to know how I see an issue or get my input," he said.
He also keeps up online with the latest news in the city.
"I check in every day on the (local news) headlines," he said. "So I have a feel for the public conversation."
Cigars, beef jerky
As a Navy Reserve officer, of course, Buttigieg is Lt. Pete, not mayor. In fact, Buttigieg said, few people he works with know about his job outside of the military.
"I might as well be a career military officer for all they know," Buttigieg said. "At the same time, folks Google the new guy, so they catch on pretty quick."
Reactions vary, he said.
"Obviously it's a curiosity," he said. "On a broader level, it doesn't really matter. Here it's, 'Can the person get the job done, and can I trust this person with my life?' "
Remarkably, Buttigieg said, he's run into people from South Bend on base, an experience he describes as "a little bit disorienting."
"It's always unexpected ... but it's always nice to feel that connection to home," he said. "It's also a reminder how, even a little city like ours has people all around the world."
The ability to communicate with friends, family and staff on a regular basis also has been nice: "Obviously written letters are something that still mean a lot to us over here, but the ability to pick up the phone ... "
He recalled a scene on Father's Day, with he and a handful of other men and women perched on a rooftop, snow-capped mountains in the background, communicating over the Internet with family back home.
"The rooftop on base has pretty good Wi-Fi, so a lot of fathers were up there using FaceTime or Skype," he said.
Letters and care packages also mean a lot.
"I really enjoy letters and photos, things I can stick up on the wall," he said. "And the occasional cigar, which is appreciated. Soldiers are not allowed to have beer out here, so we've got to have some sort of vice."
"He likes beef jerky, I think beef is hard to come by," Montgomery said. "Some snacks, books, clippings, that's mostly what it is. One thing he's really enjoyed -- the quarters are pretty generic, so he asked for some South Bend postcards."
The mayor's office sent him a flag of the city. He flew it above the base and posted a photo to his personal Facebook page, commenting, "Proud to fly the flag of our hometown over my temporary home."
That same page includes other photos, plus links to stories, comments about things going on in Afghanistan or back home and, increasingly, Afghan proverbs such as "A river is made, drop by drop" or "Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet."
"There are some really pithy ones," he said of the native sayings. "One that's been on my mind more and more is 'Every man's home is Kashmir to him.' I think there's an understanding in Afghanistan ... how important it is to be from somewhere."
For Buttigieg, that place is South Bend, a place he said he misses greatly.
"I miss my home, I miss the people -- those are the big things," he said. "There are little things, too. I've decided not to eat a cheeseburger here ... Until I get to C.J.'s (Pub) and eat a good cheeseburger, I'm not going to bother."
"The most interesting mayor you've never heard of"
By Jaime Fuller, The Washington Post
March 10, 2014
Mayor Pete Buttigieg had to balance a tricky set of themes in his State of the City speech on February 12. Not only did he have to lay out his agenda for the upcoming year, he also had to address the fact he wouldn’t be in South Bend for most of it. “With the minor exception of some home improvement projects waiting for me at my house," he said, "nothing underway in this City will stop or pause during the next seven months, and I know I will return home to an improved administration and an even stronger community.”
Two weeks later, he handed the city off to newly appointed Deputy Mayor Mark Neal, who would watch over the Indiana city of 101,000 while Buttigieg was serving in Afghanistan. Buttigieg is currently training in Chicago, readying to deploy as an "individual augmentee," or a unit of one, doing intelligence work with the Navy Reserves.
The 32-year-old lieutenant is far from the first elected official to be deployed during their tenure. Attorney General Beau Biden, a member of the Delaware National Guard, was deployed to Iraq in 2008. In 2010, 26 state legislators currently serving had been deployed with the National Guard or Navy Reserves while in office. However, Buttigieg's office thinks he may be the only mayor who has ever been deployed while serving. It's not the only superlative Buttigieg has won since he was elected mayor of South Bend in 2011 with 74 percent of the vote. Last year, GovFresh, an organization that recognizes "public servant innovators" and "civic entrepreneurs" voted New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Buttigieg their mayors of the year. Buttigieg is also the youngest mayor of a city of over 100,000, something that people never fail to comment on.
In July 2012, when NPR came to cover the future of the city's abandoned Studebaker factory -- which was being transformed into a data center after 50 years of falling apart -- the reporter asked, “How old are you? You don't look like you're old enough to be the mayor of anything.” The South Bend common council also takes issue with Buttigieg’s age, according to Jack Colwell, who has written about local politics for the South Bend Tribune for over 45 years. "Even though this kid is smart and a Rhodes scholar, they were like, ‘What does this kid know about anyway?’”
Buttigieg's youth is also likely the reason he got elected by such a large margin. His chief of staff, Kathryn Roos says, with young politicians, "people elect you because they want change. Even if you don’t run on change, your face kind of says that.” Change happens to be another reason the city council, made up of eight Democrats and one Republican, has often clashed with Buttigieg. The election that Buttigieg won in 2012 was the first open mayoral race in 24 years. The city had gotten used to a very predictable set of decision makers, a mold that Buttigieg didn't fit into. "One of the obstacles he's faced," says Colwell, "is that some people still want to do things the old way. His approach is somewhat different from mayors of recent past." His approach is also different than many other mayors and people in government, which is why the nation should keep an eye on South Bend and Buttigieg, because both he and the city are unlikely to pause over the next seven months, or the months that follow. And, as much as the council has grumbled about Buttigieg's tactics, they've generally given a resounding yes to most of Buttigieg's policies. "That’s a pretty strong symbol for moving the city forward," says Mike Schmuhl, Buttigieg's former chief of staff and campaign manager. (Editor's note: Schmuhl worked at the Washington Post, in the public relations department for a period last decade.)
The city of South Bend has had a similar trajectory to many other cities in the Midwest. One factory used to anchor the town, the Studebaker plant, until it closed on December 20, 1963, and sent 30,000 people fleeing from the town over the next 50 years. Joseph Buttigieg and his wife Ann moved to South Bend in 1980 after he got a job as a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, located at the outskirts of the city. At that point, the city was still trying to figure out how to move on." The city was more visibly battered by the departure of Studebaker," Buttigieg says. "Downtown continued to lose ground for awhile." Things began to improve by the end of the decade though. "When Peter was growing up, things were changing slowly. But the real transformation has happened in the past few years. For the last three or four years, graduate students have started living downtown."
The recession sent things spinning in the other direction for awhile -- the unemployment rate went over 12.5 percent in 2010 and the current median income is around $32,000 -- and the city hasn't figured out to do with the houses left empty by the evaporating population, houses that attract crime and violence. In 2012, South Bend had 18 homicides, the highest number they've had in over a decade. Despite this, locals say they've noticed a difference, even if progress isn't happening at a speed they'd prefer. The rest of the country hasn't had quite as nuanced a reaction.
In 2010, South Bend earned a spot on Newsweek's list of "America's Dying Cities." A dozen more articles followed deliberating whether the city was deceased, in the process of expiring, or simply in a downturn. "Mayors love lists when they say something good about their city and hate them when they don’t," says Pete Buttigieg. "Luckily we haven’t had a bad list since I started office."
He's very happy to put many of the projects he's started since January 1, 2o12 on a good list, though. Buttigieg says his overarching philosophy toward politics is defined by two different strains. There's the moral and the historical thread, and there's the technical.
The first set of principles he honed during his long training in politics. He was valedictorian and class president of his graduating class at St. Joseph's High School in South Bend. That year, he also won the national John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Essay Contest, which he wrote about Bernie Sanders. At Harvard, where he graduated in 2004, Buttigieg was active with the College Democrats and president of the Institute of Politics Student Advisory Committee. In 2005, he headed to Oxford University to study politics, philosophy and economics as a Rhodes Scholar. He worked on congressional campaigns in Indiana, Arizona, and New Mexico, and John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. In 2009, he ran for Indiana state treasurer, losing to future failed Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, before handily winning a crowded Democratic mayoral primary in 2011.
The technical, the day-to-day muck of governance, his sense of that was fine-tuned in his equally robust consulting career. He worked with the Cohen Group, a consulting firm started by former secretary of Defense William Cohen, and worked at McKinsey doing work on energy and grocery pricing. When it comes to being a mayor, Buttigieg thinks that his work at McKinsey might have been the most “intellectually informing experience" he's had.
One of the things Buttigieg and his administration are proudest of is the 311 line they debuted in February 2013, which hopes to make the process of dealing with the day-to-day needs of South Bend residents more efficient. When Roos described its effect, she said it was an effective way of reaching "customers, or residents" and an excellent way of collecting data on the government's performance. Buttigieg called 311 a "customer service" line, phrasing he's used before. One way it's been especially effective is finding out what houses are being missed in traffic pick-up, something that would have taken far longer to figure out if they hadn't noticed a trend in the data. Last December, the city fielded its 100,000th 311 call, and they had plenty of data to parse about how it's worked.
Last year, Code for America, colloquially known as "Peace Corps for geeks," chose South Bend as one of the ten cities it would advise that year. They created an app, CityVoice — similar to the one used in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, Blight Status — that helps residents identify the many vacant properties left behind after the manufacturing exodus. The same month that Buttigieg debuted the 311 hotline, the "1,000 properties in 1,000 days" plan was announced, which gives a deadline to the city's push to deal with vacant houses. The Vacant and Abandoned Housing Task Force used the data from CityVoice and other sources to compile a 78-page report of the best way to deal with the lots.
Using data has been an integral part of politicking in the 21st century, but it's been most visibly used on the campaigning end of things. The 2008 Obama campaign showed the power of charts and targeted outreach and databases, and candidates at the federal level who eschew technology are vanishing. State and local races can still run mainly on campaign signs and sweat, but Buttigieg's landslide victory likely owes a lot to the fact he imported a talented campaigning team and tech know-how to South Bend. Using technology and open source data has also become an integral part of governing at the federal level and in big cities. Former Baltimore mayor Martin O'Malley was one of the first people to use data in city government in a big splashy way, debuting the CitiStat program in 1999. In the program's first year, the city saved $13.2 million. Other big cities — San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia — have since created civic innovation offices, but many smaller cities haven't, likely due to the fact they are known for brain drain more than bringing in new, young talent. Both Buttigieg and Schumuhl think that cities are increasingly becoming the place politically-minded young people go if they want to test their skills and make policy.
"The old line of thought used to be that local government is the bush leagues," Buttigieg says. "But the kinds of people I’ve been able to bring on my time, to this modest-sized Midwestern city, shows that things are changing. People see the opportunities that exist at this level. In the 60s, you would go to NASA, in the 90s you would go to Silicon Valley, now these people are interested in working in local government."
Schmuhl adds, "I can totally see Pete saying that South Bend is a perfect sized city to try new things. It’s at the center of the country, it has only 100,000 people, there’s lots of land, lots of resources, and a low cost of living. People have moved to South Bend to work in the mayor’s administration or people have moved from the private sector in South Bend to work in local government instead." Deputy mayor Neal is one of those people. He has no previous political experience, but has had a successful consulting career.
As innovative as Buttigieg's modus operandi may be for South Bend, his constituents are probably not noticing the methodology. But, they do notice things are changing, which is why they voted for him anyway."They hear about these new projects, of course," Colwell says. "They may not understand them, but they hear the stories and realize it’s something new that sounds good. That perception helps his image."
Buttigieg can't be reduced to a data evangelist alone though. He thinks one of the biggest pitfalls of problem solving through graph and regression line is "where you could confuse policy or moral challenges for technological issues.'"
And Buttigieg's first two years haven't been perfect. Soon after taking office, he demoted the city's first African American police chief after a federal wiretapping investigation in the department. Some council members and residents have accused his programs — especially the vacant housing initiative — of gentrifying the city. "Who knows what will happen while he’s gone," Colwell says. "He’s generally been received pretty well. Business leaders like him. He’s worked a great deal with the University of Notre Dame. He may lose some of that luster while he’s away if the potholes get worst. People could say, ‘Why is he in Afghanistan while the roads aren’t being shoveled?'"
Regardless of how the city fares in the next seven months, that military background also makes the mayor stand out from the rest of the army of data-happy millennials that define the younger strata of the Democratic Party. If he has larger ambitions, and the local whispers about whether he would campaign for governor or Congress this year assume he does (he isn't running for either, and has instead already announced his intention to run for re-election in 2015), it's clear military experience has never hurt the ambitious.
When Buttigieg was at Harvard, he participated in protests against the war in Iraq, and even penned a few lines of President Bush-inspired poetry, a skill he perhaps absorbed from being around his literary-minded father (Sample rhyme: "But please, make no mistake here, / no Misunderestimation. / Reversing four years of my rule / Would take a generation."). "The decision to serve needs to be independent of your politics," however, he now says.
On his mother's side there is a long tradition of military service — his grandfather was a surgeon in the military, and his great-uncle died in a plane crash while training during World War II. He would visit his grandmother at Fort Bliss in Texas as a kid. The moment that led to him deciding to sign up for the Navy Reserves in 2009, he says, happened while canvassing in Iowa for Barack Obama in 2008. He was sent to knock on doors in three of the state's poorest counties, Many of the people who answered were in the armed forces. They were really young,” says Buttigieg, who was in his mid-twenties at the time. “They looked like kids to me.”
He also thinks that if more elected officials had served or had family members in the military, we may have never had gone to war in Iraq at all. As the Pew Research Center pointed out in a report last year, "Not all that long ago, military service was practically a requirement for serving in Congress." Now, only about 20 percent of both chambers of Congress comprises veterans. Veterans also make up a smaller percentage of the general populace, something that worries Buttigieg, especially given how far away the conflicts in the Middle East can feel for people in the United States. "It’s important for people to recognize that this war is being fought in, yes, a specific place, but also at home too," he says. "I’m worried about how remote this war is for a lot of people. In South Bend, me deploying reminds people that this is still going on."
The war in Afghanistan is ongoing, yes, and still very dangerous for soldiers. American casualties still tally up by the dozen on a weekly basis, and those Americans who do get injured are getting wounded more severely. Insurgents have been fighting so long, they've made the maiming more efficient too.
Just like he absorbed knowledge during his time in the private sector that’s been put to use during his tenure in South Bend, Buttigieg hopes that he can bring back some of the things he learns in Afghanistan — which he had previously visited before, along with Iraq, as a contractor — to the Midwest too. "Military service might sound like a totally different environment, but every experience you fall back on later, it makes you smarter," he says. "Why wouldn’t that be true of the military too?"
HOW SOUTH BEND, INDIANA SAVED $100 MILLION BY TRACKING ITS SEWERS
A Midwestern municipal government isn’t the first thing that leaps to mind when you think of innovation, but it ought to be. Cities face more demand than ever to deliver with the same amount of resources. In local government, it’s very clear to your customers—your citizens—whether or not you’re delivering. Either that pothole gets filled in or it doesn’t. The results are very much on display, and that creates a very healthy pressure to innovate.
Businesses always have competitors nipping at their heels. Historically, cities have not viewed themselves as subject to that same type of competition. But that’s wrong. The reality, especially for our modest-sized, middle-American community, is that people can choose. Labor is mobile. Individuals are deciding where they want to work, live, and set up their businesses. Our job is to take certain worries off the table. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether there’s going to be clean, safe drinking water coming out of the faucet. Getting through school, holding down a job, and raising a family? That’s hard enough.
I’m the youngest mayor in America of a city with a population of more than 100,000. Part of the message the community sends when they put a rookie in a job like this is, We want something different. As a consultant at McKinsey, I learned the value of data and the ability to shape that information into an answer. Last year, South Bend became the first city in the world to migrate its sewer system to the cloud, which prevented polluted water from going into the river and saved $100 million in new pipes. It all started with a local startup called EmNet.
Now, we’re looking for ways to enhance people’s relationships with their neighborhoods. When the Studebaker car company left South Bend in the '60s, we gradually lost about a quarter of our population. The consequence of that is, we have a lot of vacant houses that we’ve got to do something about. So I set a target of 1,000 houses in 1,000 days—we’ll save them if we can, and turn them down if we can’t. But we needed something that would galvanize people to help.
That’s why I reached out to Code for America. I thought there was something appealing about the kind of person who would become a Code for America fellow. It’s still counter-cultural to be working on civic issues. They could be doing any number of prestigious and lucrative things, yet they chose this. In January, we partnered with three fellows to create a web app for citizens to find information about properties in the community. What happened to that house at the corner of the block? Can a few neighbors get together and buy it for $8,000? If it’s been torn down, who do we need to call to turn it into a garden? It does no good for me to tell our citizens that we’re transparent, but in order to find something out, you have to show up to our code enforcement department and wade through thousands of pages of files and folders.
At the end of the 11-month program, we want to have a number of apps that will improve people’s lives—even those who never log on to use them. It’s part of an ongoing transformation here. We’ve cleared out this vast tract of land that was covered with decaying factories and turned it into a landing pad, called Ignition Park, for startups coming out of Notre Dame. The first company set up there does data hosting, which symbolizes a bit of geographical luck for us. Because South Bend was built at a nexus of highways and railway lines, we have an abundance of fiber-optic cables going through our city. That, in addition to our cold climate, creates the ideal situation for us to take that old 800,000-sq.-ft. Studebaker factory, which I had always thought we would have to blow up, and bring it back as a data center. That’s what South Bend has always been good at—adapting something into a new and different opportunity. We just need to take it to the next level.
A version of this article appeared in the September 2013 issue of Fast Company magazine.