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Buttigieg Says Success As South Bend's Mayor Prepared Him To Be President

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Pete Buttigieg is expected to officially announce that he is running for president on Sunday. On the campaign trail, Mayor Pete often makes the case that his time as mayor of South Bend, Ind., has prepared him to be president. He said so on this program back in January.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PETE BUTTIGIEG: We transformed the trajectory of our city. This is a community that was written off as dying at the beginning of this decade. Now it's growing again.

GREENE: Jennifer Weingart from member station WVPE takes a look at just how true that is.

JENNIFER WEINGART, BYLINE: The reality of Pete Buttigieg's South Bend depends on who you are.

JAKE MITCHELL: There is a definite difference in how it used to be versus how it is now.

WEINGART: That's Buttigieg's high school classmate Jake Mitchell.

MITCHELL: It's kind of an intangible feeling. You know, everything seems nicer, cleaner.

WEINGART: Buttigieg was 29 when he was first elected mayor. He was easily re-elected in 2015, but his policies have made some in this once-industrial city feel left out. Lisa DeBerry is a community activist.

LISA DEBERRY: So you've done a lot for downtown, and you're building hotels and apartments that people who are native to this town can't even afford, even the people with college degrees. So it's like, who are you developing that for?

WEINGART: Early in his first term, Buttigieg set a goal to knock down a thousand blighted houses in a thousand days, which the city met. Jack Colwell is a longtime columnist for the South Bend Tribune.

JACK COLWELL: And that certainly helped neighborhoods where there had been these vacant houses. They were drug houses, and gangs use them. There were eyesores.

WEINGART: Most of those neighborhoods are historically minority and lower income. And when the houses started coming down, people like Regina Williams-Preston became politically engaged.

REGINA WILLIAMS-PRESTON: Well, the people rose up and said, hey, we need help out here. Don't knock down our communities. Give us assistance. Give us help. It's our tax dollars. Invest in us.

WEINGART: She's a teacher and a city council member who's running to replace Buttigieg as the mayor of South Bend. She says Buttigieg listened.

WILLIAMS-PRESTON: And that's when we got $2 million worth of investment in home repair and 2 million more dollars invested in new construction for affordable homes.

WEINGART: Another candidate for mayor is Jason Critchlow. He used to be the county Democratic Party chair. He says Buttigieg deserves some credit for turning the city around, but...

JASON CRITCHLOW: I think there is a feeling here that it's disingenuous to pretend that one person had solely to do with any of the progress made here in South Bend. I think there's been literally decades of public servants that have gotten us to where we are today.

WEINGART: Many locals here have always had a sense that South Bend was going to be a stepping stone for Buttigieg's career. But not everyone in South Bend supports his presidential ambitions, says Lisa DeBerry, especially those who were left behind by the city's growth.

DEBERRY: That's like a mother having her own children and not taking care of - and then wants foster children. It's like, no, we're not going to give you more.

WEINGART: Regina Williams-Preston hopes that if he becomes president, Buttigieg would take the lessons he learned in South Bend forward.

WILLIAMS-PRESTON: You could really be, like, the president of the United States one day. And it's up to us - like, the people of South Bend - to make sure you're ready for that task.

WEINGART: Buttigieg was an improbable mayor, and he's hoping that experience will land him in another improbable place - the White House. For NPR News, I'm Jennifer Weingart in South Bend. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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