South Bend reaches vacant and abandoned housing goal
By Erin Blasko, The South Bend Tribune
September 23, 2015
SOUTH BEND — The city of South Bend marked the end Tuesday of an effort to address 1,000 vacant and abandoned houses in 1,000 days.
Despite early setbacks related to the weather and asbestos issues, the city reached the milestone 62 days ahead of schedule.
Of the 1,016 houses addressed over the past two-plus years, 512 were demolished or deconstructed and 378 were repaired, according to information provided by the city.
Another 126 have been contracted for demolition by the city or as part of a federally funded Blight Elimination Program administered by the state.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he expects the majority of the houses under contract for demolition to come down before the Nov. 24 deadline.
“This is a good day, and I’m excited for the road ahead in our community,” the mayor said during a press conference Monday in front of a restored home in the 600 block of Clemens Street.
He described the achievement as “a great landmark in this administration and the life of the city.”
Praise for the initiative has not been universal.
Notably, critics have complained that the effort has focused too much on demolition and not enough on repair, and that the city has done a poor job maintaining the resulting vacant lots.
Pressed on the issue as a candidate, Buttigieg convened a Vacant and Abandoned Housing Task Force shortly after taking office in January 2012.
The task force delivered a report on the problem in April of the following year, at which time the mayor announced the 1,000 house goal.
Speaking Monday, Buttigieg estimated about 300 vacant and abandoned houses remain in the city, noting the problem “is never 100 percent solved” but is now “manageable.”
“We had all kinds of challenges, and we learned a lot of lessons the hard way,” he said of the process. “But we learned as a community that we do have what it takes to address the problem.”
The city spent about $10 million tackling the issue, which included about $8.5 million in local funds and about $1.5 million in federal funds, Buttigieg said.
Most of the local funding came from the settlement of environmental claims related to the old Studebaker and Oliver industrial sites and from economic development income tax revenue, he said.
Buttigieg said the city will remain focused on the problem moving forward, “but now it’s more about holding the line and looking to the future.”
There also are plans to reconvene the Vacant and Abandoned Housing Task Force, he said, to discuss lessons learned and next steps.
Pete Buttigieg rolls to victory in South Bend mayoral primary
By Jeff Harrell, The South Bend Tribune
May 6, 2015
SOUTH BEND--In his first re-election bid, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg easily fended off a Democratic primary challenge from council member Henry Davis Jr., taking 78 percent of the vote Tuesday.
Seeking his second term, Buttigieg made a stronger showing than his first campaign in the 2011 primary. He won 8,369 votes Tuesday, up from 7,663 votes in 2011 when he ran against Democrats Mike Hamann, Ryan Dvorak and Barrett Berry.
"We think it's a very strong vote of confidence in our administration, our way of doing business and our team," Buttigieg told The Tribune at the West Side Democratic and Civic Club, moments after it became clear he had won. "We're thrilled with the results."
But the 2,405 people who voted for Davis weren't lost on the mayor.
"I'm going to do everything I can to convince everyone who voted a different way that we deserve their support," he said.
Buttigieg has pointed to a declining unemployment rate — down 4.5 points since he took office in 2012 — fewer vacant and abandoned houses, new development downtown and lower levels of crime as reasons for optimism.
He also noted ongoing infrastructure improvements related to the "Smart Streets" program and recent economic development announcements linked to $180 million in new investment and as many as 1,400 new jobs.
"Over the last four years we've been able to build a phenomenal record of results for the people of South Bend," Buttigieg told supporters at the club.
Davis, on the other hand, has said the city is in worse shape under Buttigieg, citing a rising homicide rate, lack of downtown development, too much poverty, and too many vacant and dilapidated houses being demolished instead of repaired.
After the results came in Tuesday night, Davis said he had expected to win.
"Things didn't pan out the way we wanted them to pan out, obviously," Davis said. "But I think we did a pretty good job of presenting the issues that affect South Bend. We have 30 percent of people living in poverty, 75 percent of children on free or reduced lunches. These numbers ... speak to a level of apathy here in South Bend. An election with less than 10,000 votes dictates who can continue to be in leadership roles while those things are not be attended to."
About 12 percent of registered voters cast ballots countywide, down from 16 percent in the 2011 primary when no incumbent was running, and up slightly from 10 percent in 2007.
Davis said he didn't know what the city's poverty and free/reduced lunch rate statistics were before Buttigieg took office, "but nothing is being done to change them.
"Smart Streets don't change that. Tearing down homes doesn't change that. We're dealing with bricks and mortar. We're not dealing with social and economic conditions of the people we have in the city."
Davis said he hadn't yet thought about what he will do when his council term expires at the end of the year. His only employment is his council seat, typically regarded by council members as a part-time role.
Buttigieg in the Nov. 3 general election will face Kelly S. Jones, a small business owner who ran unopposed in the Republican primary.
Don't Forget to Vote!
Tuesday, May 5, 2015 is Primary Election Day. Polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. in Indiana.
To vote for Pete, request a Democratic ballot and select "PETE BUTTIGIEG" for Mayor of the City of South Bend.
Be sure to bring a valid photo I.D. to the polls.
To find your polling place, please visit www.indianavoters.com.
MAYOR BUTTIGIEG'S CAMPAIGN ANNOUNCES LIST OF ENDORSEMENTS
SOUTH BEND--Today, Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced the endorsement of a range of organizations in his bid for reelection.
These organizations include: International Association of Fire Fighters (IAFF) Local 362 PAC, International Union of Operating Engineers (IUOE) Local 150, Sheet Metal Workers Local 20, Indiana/Kentucky/Ohio Regional Council of Carpenters, and the Chamber of Commerce of St. Joseph County.
Mayor Buttigieg also received endorsements from the Chamber of Commerce and IAFF during his first run for mayor in 2011.
“Throughout this campaign, we've seen a broad base of support from voters across the city. Receiving the endorsement from these organizations is further evidence of that support,” said Alex Rosselli, Mayor Buttigieg’s campaign manager. “In the days leading up to the election, we've had volunteers in the office every day making phone calls and knocking on doors around the city. It's clear that voters are excited about the progress that we've made over the past few years, and want to continue our city's forward momentum.”
Pete Buttigieg and Henry Davis Jr. square off in South Bend mayor's race
Dem mayoral candidates develop their own vision for South Bend
By Erin Blasko, The South Bend Tribune
April 19, 2015
SOUTH BEND -- Is South Bend in peril or on the mend?
How voters answer that question is likely to determine the outcome of the race for the Democratic nomination for mayor between incumbent Pete Buttigieg and challenger Henry Davis Jr.
The winner will face Kelly Jones, the only Republican candidate, in the general election.
A South Bend native, Buttigieg has spent much of his first term charting a course for recovery for the city after years of decline linked to shifts in the broader economic landscape and the recent recession.
In speeches and public comments, he points to a declining unemployment rate -- down 4.5 points since he took office 2012 -- fewer vacant and abandoned houses, new development downtown and lower levels of crime as reasons for optimism.
Also: ongoing infrastructure improvements related to the "Smart Streets" program and recent economic development announcements linked to $180 million in new investment and as many as 1,400 new jobs.
As part of the Smart Streets effort, the Common Council recently approved a $25 million bond to convert Main and Michigan streets from one-way to two-way and improve Lincoln Way West and Western Avenue --something Davis opposed as misplaced priority.
Buttigieg also points to efforts to make local government more user-friendly.
He has introduced a 311 customer service line, he notes, simplified the tax abatement process, created an online open data portal and established a single point of contact in the Department of Community Investment.
He has also pushed for parks improvements, he notes, via a $5.6 million parks bond approved by the Common Council in January.
As with the Smart Streets bond, Davis opposed the parks bond. He questioned the size of the bond and expressed concern that the proceeds had not been earmarked for specific projects.
If re-elected to a second term, Buttigieg said he would work to improve public transportation, which can be a barrier to employment, and establish universal prekindergarten education in the city.
He would also look for ways to reduce the cost of an ongoing, federally mandated $600 million sewer project.
"The bottom line is, I think I can say with confidence that South Bend is better off than it was three years ago," the Harvard University and University of Oxford alum said in a recent interview.
Davis, by contrast, describes the city as in peril, saddled by unsustainable debt despite a strong AA credit rating and suffering under what he calls corrupt, incompetent leadership.
He describes the mayor's policies as inadequate in addressing the problems of crime, poverty, unemployment and inequality in the community.
On poverty, the Earlham College alum points to the fact that 30 percent of the city's residents live at or below the poverty line, while 74 percent of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
He also accuses the mayor of steering no-bid city contracts to political friends and donors and of violating basic principles of transparency in matters such as the controversial wiretapping of police department phones.
As evidence of the former, he points to the list of donors to the mayor's campaign, which includes a number of contractors that do business with the city.
Those companies also contribute to many other campaigns, both Republican and Democrat.
"Have you seen his campaign expense report?" Davis asked a reporter. "That's why he does it. That's how you get $300,000 for a municipal race."
Buttigieg has referred to such accusations as patently false.
Davis, for his part, said he also would accept contributions from contractors, but that he would not let those contributions influence the process.
Davis also opposes the Smart Streets Program and the Vacant and Abandoned Housing Initiative, which has led to the repair or removal of more than 800 houses since 2013.
He describes the former as wasteful and ill-conceived and the latter as destructive to the extent it focuses too much on removal and not enough on repair.
"You're talking about tearing down homes as the answer to redevelopment," he scoffed.
"The main reason we're doing this is because the neighbors have been demanding it," Buttigieg countered. "When a house that is beyond repair stands there for years, it harms the people that live nearby."
Davis also accuses the mayor of misrepresenting crime data in an attempt to downplay the problem, referring to claims crime in the city is at a 20-year low as "ridiculous" in light of a severe uptick in homicides last year.
He said he would focus on community policing and minority recruitment as ways to address crime. He would also establish police substations in high-crime neighborhoods, he said.
As for downtown, he describes it as "failing."
"You hear about how great downtown is doing, downtown is not doing great at all. As a matter of fact downtown is failing," he said. "It's gone, it's zero, it's empty. The lights are turned off."
He also questions the mayor's contention that the city contributed to the creation of more than 1,400 jobs last year.
"The truth is the actual job gain here is probably less than 100," he said, noting not all of the jobs touted have come online yet and that the numbers do not include concurrent job losses.
Overall, the city has added more than 3,600 jobs since January 2012, according to the state Department of Workforce Development. At the same time, labor force participation has ticked up 5 percent.
Davis points to his work to prevent illegal parking and dumping in the city, slow the demolition of vacant and abandoned houses, and save occupied homes along Fellows Street from demolition as part of a street-widening project.
As for why he's running, "We need to restore justice and fairness in the city of South Bend," Davis said.
But Davis has his own issues to contend with.
A lightning rod for controversy, he spent much of 2014 on the defensive after posting an obscene photo of a man and a dog to his Facebook page and sharing an objectionable tweet about Republicans and abortion.
He was also arrested and booked on multiple counts of operating while intoxicated and reckless driving in July, when he was stopped for driving the wrong way on the U.S. 20 Bypass.
That arrest, which he later blamed on an adverse reaction to a new multiple sclerosis medication, led to a reckless driving conviction, probation and substance abuse education.
Davis is also the subject of a lawsuit that accuses him of libeling four police officers in a letter to the Department of Justice in May 2014 related to the police tapes controversy.
He refused to address or even acknowledge those issues in a recent interview. Previously, however, he has blamed the media for the problem.
"Don't' believe what the media says," he told WNIT's "Politically Speaking" recently. "Yes, I've had less than desirable decisions that have happened ... but at the level some of these things have been taken to, I question the truthfulness about all of it."
Buttigieg has also faced criticism over past decisions
Notably, critics have questioned his handling of the police tapes controversy, which has divided the community and cost taxpayers more than $1 million in legal and settlement fees.
The problem, which dates to the previous administration, involves accusations of racism and criminal activity related to conversations recorded on a police department telephone line over a period of several months in 2010 and 2011.
As a member of the Common Council, Davis voted to subpoena the city for access to the recordings. The now 3-year-old case is currently making its way through the state and federal court systems.
Buttigieg is not opposed to the release of the tapes, but wants the courts to decide what can and cannot be released in order to avoid potential invasion of privacy issues and further litigation at taxpayer expense.
Davis, by contrast, would immediately release at least some of the material, he said, based on a recent federal court ruling.
"The city deserves to hear what's going on on those tapes," he said.
Critics also accuse the mayor of being insufficiently transparent in certain matters, including personnel matters.
Buttigieg defends his record, noting the city has handled more than 6,000 public records requests in three-plus years with no violations.
"I would stack our record on transparency up against anybody in this area or anywhere else," he said, "because it's something that we not only talk about but strongly believe makes this city a better place to live."
Ready to Vote?
You don't have to wait until Election Day on May 5th to cast your ballot. People are already able to vote early at the County-City Building in downtown South Bend during certain hours.
Remember to bring a valid I.D. with you to the County-City Building (227 W. Jefferson Blvd.).
On weekdays, starting Monday April 7th, from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Mayor endorses Fowler in clerk's race
By Erin Blasko, The South Bend Tribune
March 30, 2015
SOUTH BEND — Mayor Pete Buttigieg waded into the race for the Democratic nomination for city clerk on Monday, endorsing Deputy Clerk Kareemah Fowler over Common Council member Derek Dieter.
This marks the third major endorsement for Fowler after current Clerk John Voorde, a Democratic candidate for South Bend Common Council, and former South Bend Mayor and Indiana Lt. Gov. Joe Kernan.
“In this race for the extremely important position of South Bend city clerk, (Fowler) has demonstrated her ability to bring people together to get the job done and to get a better future for South Bend,” Buttigieg said.
He deflected questions about whether his decision to endorse Fowler had anything to do with his relationship with Dieter, with whom he has clashed on multiple occasions in the past.
But he noted the importance of the clerk in promoting a positive relationship between the administration and council.
“Too often in recent years we've had a lot of distractions that have taken focus away from the great potential that our community has,” he said. “That's why it's so important in this office to have somebody who is open, who is trustworthy, who is friendly and who is great at bringing people together.”
He said he does not intend to endorse any other primary candidates at this time.
Fowler, who joined the clerk's office in 2010, is a graduate of Riley High School and Bethel College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in organizational management. She previously worked in the county assessor's office.
Responding to the news Monday, Dieter, a retired former South Bend police officer, said he has not solicited any "big-name endorsements."
“I'd like to think that this will be based on who has the most experience in South Bend city government and who has the best plan for the future of the city clerk's office,” he said.
The city clerk is responsible for keeping city records and ordinances, the municipal code book and the city seal. It is the second-highest elected position in the city behind mayor.
By Erin Blasko, The South Bend Tribune
March 27, 2015
SOUTH BEND — Democratic mayoral candidate Henry Davis Jr. accused Mayor Pete Buttigieg on Friday of using “creative statistics” to mask an uptick in violent crime in the community.
The mayor, in response, accused Davis of politicizing the issue without offering any real solutions.
The two will square off for the Democratic nomination in May.
Davis’ comments followed a police luncheon Thursday at which Buttigieg told assembled officers and others that overall crime in the city was at its lowest point in 20 years.
That’s based on 2012 Uniform Crime Reporting data, the most recent available.
In a statement Friday — and in subsequent comments to The Tribune — Davis disputed the data and accused the mayor of being insensitive to the victims of violent crime in the community.
“I just want to hear honest numbers from the city administration,” Davis said. “In the last 24 hours South Bend has had three shootings, resulting in one confirmed homicide. The city’s murder rate has doubled while the mayor uses his creative statistics to say crime is at a 20-year low.”
Davis later told The Tribune that “for us to talk about crime being at an all-time low while people are experiencing these violent acts … sends the wrong signal and sends the wrong message.”
“People need to stop shooting and killing people,” he said. “The message should be we’re going to work harder to put more officers on the street … improve the poverty rate, that people have more opportunities to (invest in) the community.”
Asked if he meant to contend that the mayor is manipulating the crime numbers, Davis said, “I’m not going to argue with stats, because stats can be proven to say whatever you want them to say … That’s just how the stat game works out.”
According to the city’s own data, crime fell by 2 percent last year compared with the previous year thanks in part to an overall drop in non-violent crime, particularly burglaries and robberies.
At the same time, the number of homicides nearly doubled — despite efforts on the part of the administration to confront gun violence in the form of a new Group Violence Intervention strategy.
Developed by David Kennedy, a professor of criminology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, the strategy offers perpetrators of gun violence a clear choice: Stop shooting and accept help or face the full force of the law.
The mayor credits the strategy with helping to reduce gun violence last year even as violent crime ticked up overall, and with the fact that none of the three homicides so far this year has been linked to gangs.
While not opposed to the strategy, Davis said it is insufficient in scope to address the problem of violence in the community, which is not limited to a few individuals with gang affiliations.
“The gang violence intervention probably does work for just those 30 people, however, crime is running rampant in South Bend, so the focus shouldn’t just be on those 30 people,” Davis said.
Davis said he would expand the program if elected, put more officers on the street, open police substations in high-crime areas and replace police Chief Ron Teachman with someone from within the department.
Teachman, who comes from Connecticut, does not have the respect or confidence of his subordinates, Davis said, contributing to a crisis in morale that threatens to harm public safety.
“That’s coming directly from” the officers, Davis said. “They don’t like Teachman.”
Buttigieg, in response, accused Davis of inserting politics into the situation without offering any real solutions.
“Politicizing homicides does not stop one shooting and does not make our city safer,” the mayor said Friday, noting the crime statistics that show a drop in crime come from the FBI.
He also accused Davis of ignoring the positive effect of the group violence strategy, which despite a recent increase in the number of homicides, has resulted in a 39 percent drop in the total number of people injured or killed in criminal shootings.
“I think it’s insensitive to the lives we’ve saved to ignore the things we’ve done to bring crime down,” he said.
Of the claim that morale in the police department is down because of the chief, it’s more complicated than that, the mayor said.
“Officer morale is a factor of a number of things, and we need to continue to work on that,” he said. “But a lot of work has been done to ensure our officers have a good work environment.”
“I have confidence in the work of our police chief,” he added. “And I think the most important thing is our results, and we’re continuing to get safer year by year in this city.”
He dismissed the idea of opening police substations in high-crime areas or simply hiring more officers as way to further improve public safety.
“We’ve experimented with substations and we’ve found that they’re not the most effective way to reduce crime,” he said. “And this goes far beyond just how many officers are out there … Unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. I wish it were.
He said if Davis has any other suggestions, he’s welcome to share them.
“If he has a specific idea he should propose it," he said, "so we can debate it on its merits."
Our campaign is officially underway! On Wednesday night, our headquarters welcomed supporters and volunteers to a kick-off event in downtown South Bend.
I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a personal update and ask for your continued support as I seek a second term as mayor.
We're building a hard-working team and we've already started a dialogue with voters across the city about the issues important to them.
Our city has progressed steadily to address the difficult challenges our community has faced. Together, our shared actions are moving South Bend forward. Just last week, I outlined our progress in the annual State of the City address.
However, as we all know, politics is seldom easy. Another candidate is running for mayor and we must continue to build a strong operation so our campaign's united message can reach every resident in our community.
South Bend's resurgence is a reality. Job-creating projects have taken off and unemployment is down. Hundreds of vacant houses have been addressed to strengthen neighborhoods. We have deployed new strategies to fight crime. Additionally, our finances are among the best in Indiana.
While our policies have helped South Bend make an economic comeback, there is more work to do to ensure that every resident, worker, business and student has a seat at the table and becomes a part of our even brighter future.
Together, we can take South Bend to the next level during this year's elections. Our campaign will not rest until our clear, powerful and inclusive message of opportunity for all is delivered to everyone in our community.
Thank you for your continued support.
See you on the campaign trail,
Wednesday March 18th, 2015
St. Joseph County Democratic Headquarters
135 S Lafayette Blvd
South Bend, IN 46601
Join fellow supporters as we officially kickoff the reelection campaign, and learn about ways to get involved. With about seven weeks to go until Election Day, it’s time for us to get our campaign in gear to spread the message.