Buttigieg town hall: Outbursts, heckling and Mayor Pete confronts his critics

It’s been a tough weekend for Pete Buttigieg. He is in an elected office while running for president and that can get complicated. Sunday I wrote about a confrontation South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg had Friday with some Black Lives Matter protesters during a Justice for South Bend rally. Mayor Pete held a town hall Sunday that resulted in outbursts from the audience and heckling.

Buttigieg is struggling to quell community unrest over a police-involved shooting a week ago in South Bend. Questions arise. How can voters place confidence in him to be the leader of the free world if he struggles to manage a small city of 100,00 people? Right now he can’t quite seem to find his footing as he juggles his day job as a mayor and still campaigns for president. Though he claimed to be leaving the campaign trail last week as he made the decision to return home and oversee the aftermath of the shooting, he flew to Miami to speak at a Latino legislators’ gathering. He spoke Friday morning before returning to South Bend for the Justice for South Bend rally. He missed the all-important fish fry hosted by Rep. Jim Clyburn but he did attend the South Carolina Democrat State Convention Saturday. Then he was back in South Bend Sunday for the town hall.

In South Carolina he took a shot at the police, accusing them of serving up the worst moments of racial injustice. Was he pandering to a largely black audience? Does Mayor Pete think this kind of language is helpful?

And he took jabs at President Trump.

Amongst the chaos of the town hall, Mayor Pete admitted that mistakes have been made and he took responsibility. He did, however, push back when he was accused of doing nothing. He acknowledged that his administration failed in two key initiatives – recruit more minority officers to the police department and the effort to introduce body cameras. The officer involved in the shooting wasn’t using a body camera.

The town hall was interrupted frequently by outbursts and heckling. At one point, a man yelled at Buttigieg: “You gotta get back to South Carolina like you was yesterday? Talk about ‘all lives matter’ in South Carolina?” Another man approached the stage to yell at Buttigieg and South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski, ignoring the moderator’s attempts to restore order.

“I don’t want to seem defensive, but we have taken a lot of steps,” Buttigieg said at one point. “They clearly haven’t been enough. But I can’t accept the suggestion that we haven’t done anything.”

Many in the town hall audience voiced their frustration with the police department, which included charges of racism.

The town hall grew contentious when some community members questioned whether the mayor had done enough to reform the police department in the city of 100,000 people, which is about a quarter black.

“Get the people that are racist off the streets,” one woman in the audience said. “Reorganize your department. You can do that by Friday.”

The town hall Sunday was described as “hastily arranged” and Buttigieg’s usual unemotional persona turned emotional as he struggled to cope with the angry crowd. He explained to reporters that the decision to hold a town hall that descended into chaos was a necessary action.

As a hastily arranged town hall meeting Sunday in South Bend descended into chaos — with attendees screaming profanities at him, at his police chief and each other — Buttigieg seemed to vacillate between despondency over the jeers, irritation over being interrupted and wonky erudition as he offered explanations about local laws on police misconduct that only further angered the crowd.

Yet once the gathering dispersed after the nearly two-hour meeting, the testiness from Buttigieg seemed to turn to sadness as he fielded questions from reporters. He became visibly emotional when asked whether it had been wise to hold the event given the communal shouting match it ultimately became.

“I just think it’s my job,” Buttigieg said. “I don’t know if it’s smart or not. I don’t know if it’s strategic or not. But it’s my city.”

Buttigieg’s rise in the polls has stalled out in recent weeks. No doubt his competitors in the primary race are keeping their eyes on how he handles his hometown crisis. Will any of them confront him on the debate stage this week? We’ll know soon.

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David Strom 5:21 PM on June 02, 2023