With their party now decimated at the national and state level, Democrats cling to one refuge for promoting progressive policies in the Trump era: Cities. They still control two-thirds of America’s biggest ones, and mayors nationwide are vowing to defy the new president’s agenda by shielding undocumented immigrants from deportation, pushing their own efforts to fight climate change, and working to preserve their citizens’ healthcare even as the Affordable Care Act faces repeal. Cities are where Democrats can still prove their muster, lead by example, and offer Americans an alternative vision under Republican rule.
That’s part of the appeal of Pete Buttigieg, the 35-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana (pop. 101,000), who was a late entry this month in the campaign to chair the Democratic National Committee. A gay Afghanistan veteran, Harvard graduate, and Rhodes Scholar, he says he’ll turn around his party like he’s turning around his Rust Belt city—promoting progressivism in places where it’s in short supply. Former DNC Chair Howard Dean calls him “the wild card” in this year’s race, and he’s a rising star nationally, promoted by President Barack Obama and hailed by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni as potentially the first gay president.
You could see the appeal Wednesday night, when Buttigieg stood out with poise and presence at a George Washington University debate of the DNC chair candidates sponsored by the Huffington Post.
The forum did nothing to heighten the contrast between the two perceived frontrunners—Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Labor Secretary Tom Perez—who refrained from challenging each other and raised few discernible differences between each other. But Buttigieg set himself apart from the other second-tier hopefuls: South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Sally Boynton Brown, and former Fox Newscommentator Jehmu Greene.