John Colson: A look at Mayor Pete Buttegieg’s stomping ground
Hit & Run
As I continue my round of visits to family and friends in the Midwest, I find myself in the tiny northern Indiana town of Lakeville, perched on a highway in the home state of the man who was scheduled to visit Aspen earlier this week for a fundraising event, Vice President Mike Pence.
The reason for this stop is that Aunt Vera, my last surviving aunt (on my father’s side) has lived in the South Bend, Indiana, area all her life, and has for the past nine months been fighting off her inner urge to move on from this life and into the next.
While here, and as an exercise in political gold-mining, I decided I would hang out in my cousin’s eatery, Hilltop Restaurant (originally started by her mom, the aforementioned aunt) and interview a few of the locals about a local man challenging Pence’s boss, President Donald Trump, in the 2020 race for the U.S. presidency.
And I’ve got to say right away that all five of the men I interviewed (while sitting at the counter next to the kitchen) have decidedly unflattering things to say about Mayor Pete Buttigieg (pronounced boo-de-jedge, according to locals), who is gay, Democrat in his politics and leftist in his philosophy.
“I don’t like him,” said one man, explaining when prompted, “He’s gay.”
But the man, a longtime South Bend resident, went on to say that, as well as Pete’s sexual orientation, he did not like the way Buttigieg has been managing South Bend.
“He wants to turn it into some kind of cute little college town,” the man declared, explaining that Buttigieg has been setting up bike paths and is working to build a stadium for the local minor-league baseball team, the South Bend Cubs, as a way of attracting businesses and people to town.
The other four did not mention (and I did not prompt them about) Buttigieg’s sexual orientation, but focused instead on a number of his policy initiatives, including the bike paths, described by more than one man as being entirely unused by the local populace and creating unneeded traffic complications in the town that in the last census boasted only about 100,000 residents within the city limits.
In addition, the men maintained that Buttigieg has been ineffective in helping out the city’s homeless population, even going so far as to essentially bulldoze homeless tent-city camps under regional highway overpasses but then failing to provide adequate housing for the even more homeless erstwhile campers.
And they wondered about Mayor Pete’s rather ham-handed handling of recent criticism over the uneven representation of black officers in the city’s police department.
Another complaint concerns their perception that Buttigieg has announced a willingness to invite some 30,000 Hispanic refugees to come and live in South Bend.
“Hell, we can’t even fix the roads, let alone support all these immigrants,” one man said.
Oh, and several of them, with nodded agreement from the others, uttered a single-word denunciation of the policies, theories and general outlook of Mayor Pete, a word said with some bitterness in the phrase, “He’s a Democrat” (cue a sneer, or just a general look of deep disapproval.)
As with our current president, to these men that simple, declarative phrase encompassed a whole book’s worth of denigration, criticism, anger and outright rejection.
The women I spoke with had a rather more nuanced outlook on the situation, and in general supported Buttigieg’s bid to move into the White House — though at least one gave voice to deep doubt about whether he will even make it past the primaries, let alone be elected president.
But in general they opined that he is smart, he has a progressive, people-oriented outlook on governance and politics, and they expressed the hope that if he does manage to win he will do a good job — and a much better job than the current occupant at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in Washington, D.C.
My cousin, for instance, likes Mayor Pete and hopes he does well in weaving his way through the immense field of Democrats hoping to beat Trump in 2020.
And, she said, many of her friends (men and women) in Lakeville feel the same way. She said Lakeville represents an island of mild tolerance, even progressive thought, in the middle of a sea of conservative, Republican-leaning male farmers.
I realize this is a very unscientific survey on which to base my thoughts concerning how Mayor Pete is viewed in his home district.
But I should point out that he has been elected mayor twice, which speaks to a certain acceptance of his otherwise potentially problematic liberalism, not to mention his sexual leanings.
Of course, the mayoralty of a relative small city is not the best harbinger of national political success, and there are many who wish Mayor Pete (and some of his cohort of presidential hopefuls) would drop out of the presidential race and aim for some lower post, whether congressional or gubernatorial, which would add some degree of cohesion and manageability to the Democrats’ field.
Still, this dip into the well of red conservatism tinged with blue hints has been instructive, and I’m glad I took the time to do it.
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