Pete Buttigieg lost black support between 2 rounds of the mayor, according to the data

Pete Buttigieg with Reverend Al Sharpton, Civil Rights Leader, at a restaurant in Harlem, New York

Mayor Pete Buttigieg (left), Democratic presidential candidate from South Bend, Indiana, and Rev. Al Sharpton (right), President of the National Action Network, hold a luncheon at Sylvias de Harlem , in New York, on Monday, April 29, 2019. | Bebeto Matthews / AFP / Getty Images

2020 elections

The mayor of South Bend, struggling with a police shootout, has long struggled to defeat the skepticism of black voters.


SOUTH BEND, Indiana – While mayor Pete Buttigieg opposes the aftermath of a black policeman's shooting a black man in his city, an analysis of POLITICO's data from his previous mayoral elections shows that he is struggling to gain the trust of black voters in the city following a series of controversies in his first term.

The detailed results of the South Bend electoral districts in 2011 and 2015 show that Buttigieg is repeatedly lagging behind the major black rivals in many black majority neighborhoods of West South Bend. And although Buttigieg still manages to win these offices in two general elections against white Republican opponents, his support in these areas has collapsed after his first term.

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In the 2011 general election, Buttigieg got one of his best margins of victory in these neighborhoods – a typical result of a Democrat facing a Republican opponent in South Bend. But in 2015, South Bend West scored its worst after its support dropped by more than 20 points in some constituencies.

Interviews with members of the city council, former political opponents and local residents suggest that Buttigieg's management style – a heavy external expertise and top-down implementation – could have alienated the grassroots voices. complaint that has been recorded very strongly in the black communities of South Bend, where the desire to be heard and consulted has a historical resonance.

"Because he's the smartest guy in the room, he'll tell you that what you believe is true is not factual, and that his study and understanding are better than yours," he said. said Henry Davis Jr., a former member of the city council. and the main opponent of Buttigieg in 2015. Davis won only 22% of the votes against incumbent President Buttigieg throughout the city, but even ran with Buttigieg in the predominantly black South Bend compound.

Kareemah Fowler, the first female employee of the black South Bend city who won her 2015 election with Buttigieg, told POLITICO that Buttigieg had made good efforts to engage the community, but had inevitably committed mistakes because of the pace of change that he was looking for in the fight against housing and other community issues.

"You get young, new and ambitious, you can have all those goals, plans, and things you want to do," said Fowler, "and some things may not be as thoughtful."

Many of Buttigieg's disadvantaged neighborhoods overlap with the imprint of its first-strike initiative, a program to demolish or repair abandoned housing after the city's long-term decline. While many residents have applauded the eradication of the "urban burn", some have complained that the city has not been redeveloped quickly, leaving streets strewn with virgin and invaded grounds that resemble to a "snag" smile with missing teeth.

Others felt that the mayor's reforms were aimed primarily at attracting university-trained professionals to South Bend, at the expense of local involvement of black residents living in the corridor between the airport and the city. downtown. And his decision to demote the city's first black police chief – whom Buttigieg calls his "first serious mistake as mayor" – further exacerbated tensions between the city's police and his black communities.

City council members and local residents also cited Buttigieg's sexual orientation – publicly revealed towards the end of his first term – as a potential impediment to his support among parts of South Bend's black communities.

"It's not an ordinary guy, do you know what I'm saying?" said Tydus Cunegin, retired AM General, a resident of South Bend for more than five decades. "This is not an ordinary married man like most people."

Buttigieg's identity as a married gay could hurt black voters in 2020. Among the voters registered in the 2016 presidential primaries, 41% of black Democrats said they would oppose the legalization of marriage homosexual – the largest number of all racial subgroups -. 14% of white Democrats, according to the study of the Harvard Co-op Congress elections. The survey shows almost identical figures among the Democrats of Indiana.

Buttigieg's difficulties in gaining support from Black South Bend voters provide a crucial backdrop for his early struggles to win black supporters for his presidential run, an Achilles heel that he tried to face during from large-scale events, like his sitting in a Harlem Al Sharpton restaurant. During lunch, he tried to demonstrate that as a homosexual, he understood the suffering of those who faced discrimination. But polls indicate that he still has a long way to go.

A national survey conducted by CNN shortly after the first Democratic presidential debate in late June revealed that Buttigieg was 0% backed by Black Democrats.

"Because he's running for president, no one here wants to criticize Pete.They want him to be a hero," said Regina Williams-Preston city councilor, who represents a district of Pete. West of South Bend, "but every hero has a flaw to overcome."


In his recent memoirs, Shortest way to the houseButtigieg recounts his 2011 primary at City Hall and devotes several pages to describing how he escaped the support of the "two credible candidates" of the Democratic primary: Ryan Dvorak, who had gained support from the labor movement during his tenure as a representative from the state, and Mike Hamann, a well-liked member of the county council, prime candidate of the party president. Buttigieg's only black opponent, Barrett Berry, a former Clinton administration staff member, is mentioned only once as a "remote runner".

Although Buttigieg's political instincts proved just right – he eventually won the primary with 55% of the votes, Hamann and Dvorak being second and third respectively – a more complicated picture is hiding under the results. Despite Buttigieg's high popularity in the rest of the city, Berry surpassed him in several black-dominated speakers in the west of South Bend.

Nevertheless, these neighborhoods were democratically reliable in the general election held this fall. Buttigieg was particularly good at courting the West Side by forging links with highly respected black pastors, who discussed the city's problems with him in one of his favorite places for coffee. When the results came on the night of the elections, Buttigieg was quickly proclaimed winner with 74% of the vote, backed by particularly strong support to the West of South Bend.

Buttigieg's political honeymoon with her new constituents was quickly overtaken by events. Buttigieg's first major encounter with South Bend's racial divisions as mayor began just three months after he took office in 2012, when he chose to demote the first black chief of the police forces of the United States. city.

Darryl Boykins, the police chief of South Bend, reportedly recorded incorrect phone calls from subordinates whom he feared they were shooting for his work – a scandal that caught the attention of federal investigators. After having demoted Boykins and settled three lawsuits brought by the officers involved against the city, Buttigieg refused to publish the recordings, citing legal restrictions under the federal Wiretapping Act. The decision continues to frustrate many black residents of the city, who assume the recordings have captured officers making racist remarks.

"Chief Boykins' debacle was one of the first things that made it clear that he was not connected to this community, he was not interested in what the community was saying," said Davis. "He was interested in what he thought and he did not stop saying what he thought was best for our community."

Fowler, the city secretary elected with Buttigieg's support, suggested that black voters did not like the legal constraints on the mayor.

"People did not understand what was going on," she said. "They did not understand why all this had to go to court, legal or not. They are like, "You are the mayor, you have the ability to do that." "

While the police scandal hit the headlines in its first year in office, Buttigieg was also setting the stage for its ambitious South Bend revitalization projects. The mayor has begun convening working groups and commissioning reports on the city's chronic problems with vacant and abandoned housing, a by-product of 40 years of declining population.

Municipal records show that the problem was particularly concentrated in the predominantly black neighborhoods of the West Side, and many residents praised efforts to deal with decaying properties that were catching fire and attracting urban wildlife. But the mayor's aggressive implementation has somewhat spoiled his approach.

To create a sense of urgency, Buttigieg set an ambitious goal for its initiative: the city would demolish or repair 1,000 homes in 1,000 days. But to achieve this goal, Buttigieg was to prompt owners to move to action or otherwise put neglected properties in the hands of the city.

To this end, according to interviews with municipal officials, the city government has begun to intensify the enforcement of the code, sending inspectors to the neighborhoods to inform homeowners and start assessing the fines. A new municipal website encouraged homeowners to donate their property to the city. Although the rhetoric of the initiative has largely focused on outside investors and absent homeowners, some local homeowners have been caught in the crossfire.

Regina Williams-Preston said she decided to run for city council in 2015 after she and her husband were fined more than $ 70,000 by the city during this initiative. .

According to Williams-Preston, the couple bought half a dozen properties in their neighborhood through the sale of taxes, and planned to rehabilitate and sell them. But after her husband, the main breadwinner, fell ill and fell into a coma, the couple's plans collapsed just as code enforcement became more active.

"It happened on a large scale and people did not know what had hit them," Williams-Preston said.

Fowler, whose office oversees the code's enforcement, said the decision to enforce largely ignored regulations for years had taken locals by surprise.

"If you rarely get a ticket for illegal things listed in the book, then someone comes in and gives you a ticket or two tickets, that gives you 15 tickets," Fowler said.

Buttigieg's next initiative – a plan to create an accessible downtown by reorganizing traffic, adding bike lanes and turning intersections into roundabouts – has also met with a mixed response among Black communities in the city. .

"They called it smart streets, we sort of called them stupid streets," said Gladys Muhammad, a community organizer in South Bend for more than 30 years. Muhammad suggested that residents eventually joined the program after an initial period of adaptation.

"It was a big change and people have to get used to change," she added.

West Side residents complained that Buttigieg was too focused on downtown streets, as they continued to fight potholes in their own neighborhoods.

Davis raised these issues during the 2015 Democratic mayor's primary, but spent much of the campaign defending himself from headline scandals, including arrest by the DUI. He finally won 22% of the vote against incumbent President Buttigieg during the May 2015 Democratic primaries, being close to Buttigieg or ahead of it in the predominantly black neighborhoods.

A month later, Buttigieg's is publicly declared gay by writing an article in the South Bend Tribune entitled "Why Coming Out Matters". The Mayor expressed hope that this release would increase the acceptance of the South Bend gay community.

"And for a conservative resident of a different generation, whose discomfort with social change is partly due to the impression that he knows no homosexual person," Buttigieg wrote, "a familiar face can perhaps remember that we are all in this together as a community. "

While some residents claimed that Buttigieg's sexuality rumors had swirled in South Bend for years, the public announcement put a strain on his relationship with some of the black religious congregations that had already supported him but felt unprepared by this announcement. According to Davis, some local pastors refused to support Buttigieg in the general election that followed.

That fall, Buttigieg beat his Republican opponent with 80% of the votes. In his memoir, he writes that the overwhelming margin convinced him that "our socially conservative community had either advanced in its acceptance of the sexual orientations of minorities, or decided that it did not matter to it."

But this memory has left aside a change in votes at the neighborhood level. While in 2011, Buttigieg's support was strongest in the West Side's mostly black neighborhoods, his support in those neighborhoods fell in the 2015 general election.

In ridings where more than half of the residents are black, the mayor's vote share has decreased by 8 points on average. One of the sharpest declines occurred in a neighborhood known as "The Lake", where older black residents have resided for decades. According to the Civil Rights Heritage Center of Indiana University in South Bend, it is the only neighborhood where black residents were allowed to buy land in the early 20th century.

Muhammad said Buttigieg's decision to go out as a gay could have cost him help in the black neighborhoods, but many community leaders respected his honesty.

"You must have a little courage to say it and say it because it could have suffered a very big shock in return," said Muhammad, "but he decided to admit it and he has made."

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Opinions differ as to whether the mayor was able to reconnect with Black communities in South Bend in the years that followed. His administration praised the ongoing efforts to raise awareness of minorities, including the creation of the city's first Diversity and Inclusion Officer in 2016 and the recruitment of the first African American city lawyer. But some remain skeptical.

"It feels like he's been stepping out at the door all this time – he's never been fully invested with both feet in the water," Davis said. . "It's never been covered in. How can you count on someone who leaves the city?"

Williams-Preston expressed optimism about Buttigieg's relationship with Black South Bend communities. She recalled how Buttigieg came to the community with a rigid behavior and a great entourage during her first term, which resulted in more relaxed and intimate interactions during her second term.

Muhammad told POLITICO that she thought the mayor still had great popularity and had been striving to take advantage of the experience of his first term.

"He makes adjustments when necessary," said Muhammad, who supports the mayor's presidential aspirations, "and if he made a mistake or something, he could admit it."

Shortly before the first debate, Buttigieg returned to South Bend to discuss the murder of 54-year-old black man Eric Logan. by a white policeman who claimed that the victim had threatened him with a knife, but who had not turned on the camera of his body. During a swearing-in ceremony for six new officers, Mr. Buttigieg said that public anger over the officer's inability to light his body camera was justified. The mayor promised a policy change requiring the use of the camera for all interactions with the police.

According to the South Bend Tribune, the six officers who took the oath that day are white. In the first democratic presidential debate on June 27, moderator Rachel Maddow asked Buttigieg why, after her two terms as mayor, the police force consisted only of 6% blacks in a city where 26% of inhabitants are black.

"Because I could not do it," replied Buttigieg, acknowledging that the formation of biases and other previous reforms had not been enough to prevent the shooting.


METHODOLOGICAL NOTE: Voting counts and polling station cards were obtained from the office of the Clerk of the County of St. Joseph. In ridings whose boundaries changed between the 2011 and 2015 general elections, we adjusted the number of votes and population estimates from the US Census based on the area shared between the different maps. The locations of the targeted vacant and abandoned homes were derived from a February 2013 report from the vacant and abandoned properties working group.

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