Nam Y. Huh / AP
When Molly Hewitt left South Bend, Indiana, to go to university, she did not think she would come back to live there again. Since the 1960s, the city had suffered the same brain drain as many other midwestern cities facing industrial decline.
"The goal was always to get enough so you do not have to go back to South Bend," she said.
But during his absence, things were turning. Hewitt's parents kept her informed and she decided to give another chance to the city headed by Democratic mayor Pete Buttigieg.
"Honestly, I came back because of Pete and I saw a lot of my friends doing that and a lot of people who did not grow up here and want to come to South Bend," she said. declared. Hewitt is now 23 years old. He lives in South Bend and volunteers for the James Mueller campaign, which candidate Buttigieg has approved to replace him at this year's mayor election.
Buttigieg, 37, is running for president. He is expected to officially announce his candidacy on Sunday. During the election campaign, he explains a lot about how the mayor of South Bend since 2012 has prepared him to become president.
"We have transformed the trajectory of our city," said Buttigieg in an interview with Morning Edition in January. "It's a community that was declared dead at the beginning of this decade and is growing again."
The population of South Bend has increased by more than 1,000 since 2010, after decades of haemorrhage among tens of thousands of inhabitants.
Investments in the city center, public-private partnerships and economic development – including the long-vacant Studebaker car plant, which closed in 1963 as a technology hub – were credited with the change. .
"There is a clear difference between what we used to have and what it is now," said Jake Mitchell, who went to high school with Buttigieg. "Just a kind of intangible feeling, you know, everything looks more beautiful, cleaner."
But others in this once industrial city feel left out, despite what Buttigieg did.
"You do a lot for the city center and you build hotels and apartments that the people of this city can not even afford, even graduates of higher education," said activist Lisa DeBerry. "So it's like that, who do you develop that for?"
At the start of his first term, Buttigieg's goal was to destroy 1,000 homes destroyed in a thousand days – which the city has exceeded.
"And that certainly helped," said Jack Colwell, longtime columnist for the South Bend Tribune. "The neighborhoods where there were these vacant houses were drug houses, gangs were using them, they were horrible."
Much of the housing stock in South Bend comes from the heyday of the Studebaker factory, which employed thousands of workers.
Now, most degraded neighborhoods are historically minority and low income. And when the houses began to crumble, teacher Regina Williams-Preston said she had risen to get involved with others.
"People stood up and said," Hey, we need help here. Do not destroy our communities, give us help. These are our taxes, invest in us, "she said.
"And it was at that time that we got two million dollars worth of investment in home repairs and an additional two million dollars in new construction for affordable housing," Williams-Preston added. , now a board member and mayor candidate for South Buttigieg. Bend when his second term ends on December 31st.
Williams-Preston said working with Buttigieg as mayor prepared him in part for the next step.
Jason Critchlow, another mayoral candidate, former chairman of the county's Democratic Party, said Buttigieg had not overthrown the city by himself.
"I think we have the feeling that it's illusory to claim that a person is solely responsible for the progress being made at South Bend," Critchlow said. "I think there have been literally decades of officials who have brought us to where we are today."
And it is still far from a complete recovery. More than a quarter of the population still lives at or below the poverty line, compared to the national average of about 14%.
DeBerry, the activist, said Buttigieg should not become president. "It's like a mother who has her own children and does not care for them, and who wants children in foster care," she said, expressing the feeling that She shared with many of those who remained behind by the transformation of the city. "It's like no, we're not going to give you more."
Williams-Preston says she hopes that if Buttigieg becomes president, he would take the lessons that he had learned at South Bend.
"You could really be like the President of the United States someday, it's up to us, as the people of South Bend, to make sure you're ready for this task."
Buttigieg was an unlikely mayor – he was only 29 when he was first elected. And he hopes his experience since then in South Bend will lead him to another unlikely place – the White House.