Posted on December 9, 2019

Buttigieg, in Search of Black Support, Looks Homeward

Trip Gabriel, The New York Times, December 9, 2019

Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rev. Al Sharpton

Mayor Pete Buttigieg and Rev. Al Sharpton. (Credit Image: © Michael Brochstein / ZUMA Wire)

Pete Buttigieg is rarely home these days as he scoots from South Carolina to New Hampshire to Iowa in pursuit of primary voters.

But back in South Bend, a fierce fight is underway between his campaign and some of his top rivals over Mr. Buttigieg’s impact on black residents.

With Mr. Buttigieg, the city’s two-term mayor, struggling to win African-American support, his campaign has turned to highlighting black leaders in South Bend who vouch for him, as a means of countering a run of negative news stories.

“One of the things we’ve seen is that the black voters who know me best, in South Bend, that’s where we have a lot of our best support,” Mr. Buttigieg said Friday in Iowa, as his campaign began posting “South Bend Stories” — short videos of black and Latino supporters in his hometown — on its website.

At the same time, Buttigieg’s rivals are targeting his record with South Bend’s minority population, which accounts for 40 percent of the city’s population. Events took a tense turn last week at a gathering of black South Bend leaders who were voicing support for Mr. Buttigieg. As a City Council member, Sharon McBride, was praising the mayor’s “tremendous” impact in her district, a man grabbed the microphone and shouted, “Who chose these black leaders?”

South Bend residents identified the protester on social media as a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. The Sanders campaign disavowed the tactic and the individual.

On Sunday, in an interview that aired on “Axios on HBO,” former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. lobbed a critique at the mayor, saying “Mayor Pete obviously has had difficulty garnering black support in his home city.”

Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals to his left, Mr. Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, have openly taken aim as he has surged in Iowa and New Hampshire. Mr. Biden has sought to scuff up the mayor as a potential threat to Mr. Biden’s support from moderates. The Biden campaign recently trumpeted the endorsement of Oliver Davis, a black South Bend council member in a close-to-home rebuke of Mr. Buttigieg.

On Saturday, the pro-Sanders group Our Revolution rolled into town for the first in a series of national rallies, a choice of locale that was hardly a coincidence. The rally, not as chaotic as the earlier event on Wednesday, was at the West Side Democratic Club, a venerable dive bar and political hall, where posters for kielbasa and beer still hung from a Polish festival.

Kat Redding, a Sanders supporter, invoked a fatal shooting this year of a black resident of South Bend by a white police officer. “When it comes to holding police accountable, Mayor Pete is not a man of action,” she told the crowd.

Perceptions of Mr. Buttigieg among black voters nationally — he polls in the low single digits among them — have been shaped by wide news coverage of the police shooting in June. It exposed a history of distrust of police by some black residents. That is not a phenomenon unique to South Bend — a city with a famous university, Notre Dame, but also many poor and working-class residents. African-Americans make up 26 percent of the population, and the local black poverty rate is almost twice the national rate. In a presidential debate, Mr. Buttigieg acknowledged he had failed to increase diversity on the police force.


In South Carolina recently, Mr. Buttigieg claimed to have cut the black poverty rate “by more than half,” a statement that did not withstand a fact checker’s scrutiny.