We recently discussed the lack of available oppo research on South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg as he continues to climb upward in the 2020 Democratic primary polls. Clearly, both the press and his opponents have noticed and now more stories from his tenure as mayor are emerging. Buzzfeed has an interesting tale this week involving a plan to tear down some of the abandoned homes in his city to clear the way for new real estate development. Not everyone was thrilled with this decision, including one woman who is running to replace Buttigieg as mayor.
Regina Williams-Preston got into politics so that the city wouldn’t do to anyone else what the mayor’s big redevelopment plan did to her.
His program to knock down hundreds of homes in black and Hispanic neighborhoods like hers smacked of gentrification and ultimately cost her family several investment properties they hoped to repair but couldn’t after Williams-Preston’s husband suffered a serious illness.
Williams-Preston turned her anger into a successful run for city council. She pushed for more resources and fewer fines for those eager but struggling to renovate vacant homes. She demanded a deeper understanding of how big redevelopment plans can wipe out the fragile capital accumulations in communities of color. And now she is running for mayor, a job that’s opening up because the man behind the aggressive demolition program wants to be president.
That program is being promoted as one of Buttigieg’s flagship accomplishments in his efforts to revitalize his city. It was an ambitious plan, to say the least. He set a target of bulldozing 1,000 vacant buildings in 1,000 days, literally clearing the way for new construction and economic development. Not only did he manage to achieve that goal, but he came in ahead of schedule.
If we were able to magically take all of the politics out of the issue, this housing renewal plan was a winner that Buttigieg hit out of the park. Vacant, abandoned buildings are a blight on any community and a problem big cities deal with constantly. Those neighborhoods tend to be poorly lit and act as a magnet for homelessness, gang warfare, and drug dealing. They drive down real estate prices for the entire community, present serious law enforcement challenges and are almost impossible to eliminate because nobody wants to spend the money to replace them. Mayor Pete cracked that puzzle.
The response from the citizens seemed fairly clear and positive, at least back home. One recent poll found that more than 80% of South Bend’s citizens think the city is headed in the right direction. But then again, South Bend is a city with more than 60% of residents who are white. Now that Mayor Pete is trying to woo the national Democratic base, with particular emphasis on locking up the minority vote critical to any Democrat, he’s got to deal with all sorts of questions about intersectionality and things like “gentrification.”
Now, if any of his opponents want a bad headline about Buttigieg to bring up at the debates, they have a supply of quotes from a black woman who is running for Mayor Pete’s job. He will be charged with the crime of being insufficiently sensitive to the concerns of the minority community. (He’s already started apologizing for the success of the program.) Buttigieg has been in office for a while, so there are probably more of these to come. But hey… welcome to the big leagues, Mayor Pete. You’ve jumped into a tank with nearly twenty other sharks. Best to stay alert.