Joe Biden announced on Tuesday evening that he has chosen former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg as his choice for Secretary of Transportation. I think it’s safe to say the universal reaction has been to question why this choice was made. What qualifies Mayor Pete for the job?
Buttigieg ended his candidacy for president before Super Tuesday. He endorsed Joe Biden immediately after doing so. Common opinion has had Buttigieg as a potential cabinet member as a reward for his support of Biden. He actively campaigned for him once he became the party’s nominee and often appeared on political television shows as a Biden campaign surrogate. He’s no longer Mayor of South Bend so he’s available. His record in South Bend, though, isn’t stellar. It looks as though this is a case of Buttigieg failing up.
Mayor @PeteButtigieg is a leader, patriot, and problem-solver. He speaks to the best of who we are as a nation.
I am nominating him for Secretary of Transportation because he's equipped to take on the challenges at the intersection of jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate.
— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) December 16, 2020
There are stories about Mayor Pete and train whistles. South Bend was a quiet zone for years and problems arose when the Grand Trunk Western — a subsidiary of Canadian National Railway — began blasting warning whistles at crossings and residents were losing sleep at night. Apparently, Buttigieg wrote about tackling this problem in his book. It sounds like a typical problem a small city mayor would handle but that kind of experience doesn’t normally elevate a mayor to a presidential cabinet position.
Biden often spoke fondly of Buttigieg on the campaign trail, comparing him to his son Beau, now deceased. He clearly wants to help elevate Buttigieg’s profile and add some top government experience to his resume. There is little doubt that Buttigieg will run for president again. He will be the second former presidential candidate from the 2020 race in Biden’s cabinet, after Kamala. Former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a Republican who joined the Obama administration, calls it a good pick. He thinks as a former mayor, Pete knows about the needs of mayors and other local officials. “It sends a loud message to mayors and to cities that they count. It’s where the action is on putting people to work.”
Is Mayor Pete a good manager, though? He had a pothole problem in South Bend which he didn’t address to the satisfaction of his fellow South Bend residents. That’s the type of problem mayors everywhere confront. Interestingly enough, while city residents waited for their streets to be repaired and stop having to get their vehicles repaired due to damage from potholes, Mayor Pete’s street was re-paved though it wasn’t even on the list to be re-paved. That sort of petty special treatment doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his leadership abilities. Is he up for the job of overseeing America’s infrastructure as the Biden administration anticipates spending billions of dollars on Joe’s “build back better” agenda?
Buttigieg wanted the position of ambassador to the United Nations. He was passed over for that, though, and Linda Thomas-Greenfield was nominated by Biden. He was rumored to be up for the Secretary of Commerce job and a possible candidate for ambassador to China, too. The point is that Buttigieg wants a gig that is high profile and a good resume-builder. I don’t think anyone pays too much attention to Transportation Secretary, though, right? It seems like this is a consolation prize kind of nomination.
What a cabinet position for Buttigieg does is to check another identity box for Team Biden. It cannot be stated enough how checking identity politics boxes is a top priority for the Biden administration. Biden continues to prove this by the nominations he is making. There is no rhyme or reason to many of his picks. Pete Buttigieg will be the Biden administration’s openly gay cabinet member. Joe Biden will conveniently forget that President Trump appointed Ric Grenell as acting DNI after Ric served as ambassador to Germany when he formally announces Pete’s nomination.
The media is happy to play along with the “senate-confirmed” wording of Buttigieg’s nomination in order to whitewash Grenell. See how the Democrats do this sort of preening in order to virtue-signal that they are so open-minded and diverse, much more so that Republicans? It’s malarkey but this is the game they play.
— Jake Tapper (@jaketapper) December 15, 2020
The fact remains that Mayor Pete is a diversity pick. His experience as mayor isn’t noteworthy enough to promote him to the national level of managing infrastructure. The gay community is thrilled, though, and that is what matters, not experience or qualifications. It’s about “LGBTQ visibility.”
His nomination was met with ebullient praise from gay rights activists. In a tweet, the president and CEO of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, Sarah Kate Ellis, called it an “historic milestone for LGBTQ visibility.”
“Pete’s experience and skills as a leader, manager and brilliant communicator, combined with his heartland roots and his unqualified commitment to diversity and equality, will improve the lives of all Americans as Transportation Secretary,” she said.
Pete Buttigieg had a real problem garnering support from black voters in the Democrat presidential primary. His supporters were mostly white and college-educated. Buttigieg’s allies want him to use his time in the Biden administration to build a relationship with the black community. Black activists advised against nominating Pete for this job, given his history in South Bend.
Just before news broke that Buttigieg will be Biden’s choice for the role, Black activists warned against his selection, saying he and other longtime Biden allies rumored for the spot have a poor record of working with communities of color.
Two Black community leaders from South Bend — Council member Henry Davis Jr. and local Black Lives Matter leader Jorden Giger — both of whom have criticized Buttigieg’s record throughout his presidential primary campaign, mobilized again this week in response to reports that he was under consideration.
“He did a really bad job for this community and my district in particular,” Davis Jr. said. “Bus lines have been shut down and cut off in one of the poorest census tracts in this country.”
“He has no history of working with Black owned businesses,” added Giger. “Hurting Black communities is not worth the price of doing a political favor for Pete Buttigieg because he endorsed [Biden’s] campaign in the primary.”
Ouch. But, hey, he checks off an important identity box, right? Past success (or failure) and experience won’t really matter for Status Quo Joe.