Who is Pete Buttigieg? Meet the gay millennial mayor surging in the Democratic primary

Clark Mindock
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Who is Pete Buttigieg? Meet the gay millennial mayor surging in the Democratic primary

When Pete Buttigieg officially announced his presidential candidacy this weekend, he had already achieved something most candidates can only dream of.

Just months ago, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana was a relatively unknown figure whose major accomplishment to present to American voters was the revitalization of a mid-sized city in the midwest.

But, now, months into his first major foray into national politics, Mr Buttigieg has surged into third place in several key states against an impressive find of seasoned competitors, raised a startling amount of money, and has even forced the vice president of the United States to respond to his critiques.

“If me being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade,” Mr Buttigieg said recently at an event in his home state of Indiana, a reference to the issue that has pit him against Mike Pence and brought him glowing headlines.

“And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand: that if you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.”

If elected, Mr Buttigieg would be the first openly gay president of the United States, and his husband Chasten would be America’s first first gentleman.

But, at 37, Mr Buttigieg is also hoping to become the youngest president in American history, and the two term mayor has repeatedly framed his age as an asset for the job — many of the issues facing the United States and the world, he says on the campaign trail, are ones his generation has and will shoulder more than the generations his presidential competition belong to.

“I take that long view because I have to,” Mr Buttigieg said during his announcement on Sunday, referring to the perspective he has as the only millennial in the race. “I come from that generation that grew up with school shootings as the norm, the generation that produced the bulk of the troops in the post-9/11 conflicts, the generation that is going to be on the business end of climate change for as long as we live.”

Mr Buttigieg is graduate of Harvard and Oxford, where he attended Pembroke College as a Rhodes Scholar.

After graduation, Mr Buttigieg worked at the management strategy consulting firm McKinsey and Company, before later joining the US Navy Reserves as an intelligence officer in 2009.

He ran for and became mayor of South Bend in 2011, and was later deployed to Afghanistan in 2014 on a 7-month deployment.

His two terms as mayor of South Bend have been his top resume line, however, and he has sought to highlight that work on the campaign trail in numerous ways, including by choosing a former abandoned auto factory that was converted into office space during his tenure to launch his presidential ambitions this past weekend.

The building highlighted a broader trend in the city, which was once ranked among the worst cities in decline and which has seen a resurgence in its downtown area (even if several recent studies have kept it in the lower echelons of cities to live in in the US).

As for policies, Mr Buttigieg has remained somewhat vague, purposefully stating that he wants to focus on message and story at this point in his campaign, instead of on long and detailed policy papers.

In spite of that lack of clarity — or because of it — Mr Buttigieg has seen considerable success on the campaign trail so far.

At the end of the first three months of the year, he announced that he had received $7m in donations, a surprisingly high figure for a candidate who was little known three months prior.

He as also surged in the polls, with at least one national survey showing him in third behind former vice president Joe Biden and senator Bernie Sanders. Other polls have shown him in third place in Iowa and New Hampshire, too, the two states that are first to vote in the presidential primary season next year.