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Political Mercury

South Bend mayor rising in Iowa


Buttigieg thinks he has chops to take on Trump.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, speaks during the Progress Iowa holiday party Dec. 20 in Des Moines. Buttegieg, 37, is considering running for president. (Photo By Douglas Burns)

Ascending to the Oval Office is a “seismic jump” for senators and governors and national figures, says the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who is in Iowa mulling his own bid for the presidency and making a case for generational change and practical leadership.

“I think the mayor of a city any size has the kind of on-the-ground, front-line, problem-solving executive experience whose absence is on display right now in Washington,” Mayor Pete Buttigieg said in an interview with this newspaper in the lobby of the Downtown Des Moines Marriott.

Buttigieg, who governs a city of 102,000, the home to Notre Dame University, campaigned recently in Ames, Grinnell, Ankeny and Johnston. He spent time at the Marriott in Des Moines, where CITYVIEW interviewed him as he ate a cheeseburger and fries in the lobby bar.

“The biggest thing we’ve got to work on is our democracy itself,” Buttigieg said.
In Emerson’s second poll of the Iowa caucuses, released in late March, former Vice President Joe Biden narrowly leads the Democratic field with 25 percent, followed by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at 24 percent. Buttigieg has surged to 11 percent. Senator Kamala Harris of California follows with 10 percent — the only other candidate to clear double digits in Iowa, according to Emerson.

“Mayor Pete,” as he is known on the campaign trail these days, is not the only current or former Democratic mayor eyeing the White House. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who says he’s not running) both have traveled to Iowa in the last year, as has Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti. New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu is widely considered another potential Democratic presidential contender.

Senior members of the U.S. House and Senate often have never managed more than 100 people in their lives, Buttigieg said in making the case for mayors.
Buttigieg, elected at age 29 as mayor, said he has more years of experience in government than President Donald Trump.

“I actually believe experience is an important part of the equation,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg said being mayor of a mid-sized city means he’s more involved directly in the day-to-day operations of his city than his peers in large cities.

“You eat what you cook,” he said. “We’re in the neighborhood. I get an earful if I go to the grocery.”

According to his website, Buttigieg, a Rhodes Scholar, studied philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford and holds a bachelor’s degree in history and literature from Harvard, where he graduated Phi Beta Kappa.

Buttigieg was born in South Bend.

A former officer in the Naval Reserves, Buttigieg served in Afghanistan. He notes that he would have the most military experience of any president since George H.W. Bush.

“Somebody who has had that war-time experience maybe has a little more credibility in pointing out that we have to end endless war,” Buttigieg said.
He said one the reasons his campaign resonates is a generational appetite and energy for change and youth.

“It’s not just energy among young voters,” Buttigieg said. “We’re actually finding a lot of older voters are excited about the idea of a younger candidate.”

Senior citizens were a big part of his mayoral races, he said.

Buttigieg would be the first openly gay candidate for a major party were he to earn the Democratic nomination in the coming two years. His husband, Chasten, is a junior high school teacher who has traveled with Buttigieg to Iowa, including on the most recent trip.

Buttigieg said he understands the barrier-breaking aspect of his candidacy but quickly added that his youth, policy ideas and military background are the more interesting features of his public life.

“I think that is historic in its own way, the fact that (being gay) is not the leading thing about my potential candidacy,” Buttigieg said. “It’s part of who I am. It’s part of my story. I think it’s part of how I can relate to a lot of vulnerable groups.”

He added, “I think we are getting toward a day where it (being gay) is not even a thing. (But) we are not there yet, not in Indiana, anyway.”

On one of the more sweeping policy proposals to emerge from Democrats, Buttigieg said the Green New Deal, a plan advanced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Sen. Edward Markey of Massachusetts that would eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions and guarantee jobs for all Americans, is a “great beginning” and a “set of goals.”

“It also, I think, signals a level of urgency that, in my opinion, we ought to have around climate issues,” Buttigieg said. “It really deserves the level of national effort and urgency that we mounted for things like the space program or the Cold War or getting out of the Great Depression.”

For now, Buttigieg is not an official candidate. He’s in the toe-in-the-water stages in Iowa with the formation of an exploratory committee. He wants to gauge response from voters and see whether he can put an effective organizational team together.

“I feel very good about the trajectory,” he said.

If he formally enters the race, Buttigieg said voters can expect to see him in small towns in Iowa. If rural areas are abandoned to the Republicans, then it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, he said.

“I think Step 1 is just to show up,” he said. “I think a great mistake my party often made was to leave a lot of areas alone believing that they were just more or less permanently conservative or permanently Republican when actually there’s a great tradition of progressive thinking and progressive activism in rural areas.”

Buttigieg said he thinks his home, the industrial Midwest, is the center of gravity in politics, giving a candidate from that region an advantage in the general election.

“I feel like we have gone from being neglected to being studied with exotic fascination by reporters from the coasts,” Buttigieg said. ♦


Norm-shattering candidate Andrew Yang plans to campaign remotely as a lifelike 3D hologram

Candidate could debut the technology as early as June.

Artwork by Meriah Blakley, Roo Bea Design Co., Denison, Iowa.

One of the more idea-rich presidential candidates of the modern era plans to marry science fiction with prairie populism in an innovative campaign strategy that will allow him to stretch the boundaries of time and place to go where no West Wing aspirant has gone before.

Democrat Andrew Yang, best known for advocating a universal basic income ($1,000 a month for all adults, no questions asked), plans to make appearances as a lifelike hologram, with a 3D dynamic image of a himself beamed remotely to, say, the flatbed of a truck for some campaign events and gatherings, a bold use of new technology to drive home his increasingly popular narrative about the collapse of the old American economy for millions of vulnerable workers.

In a phone interview with CITYVIEW a few days ago, Yang said his campaign is working with a hologram company and could debut the technology — possibly in Iowa — as early as June.

“We are exploring rolling a truck out that would enable someone to see a hologram of me that is three-dimensional give my stump speech,” Yang said as he traveled between campaign events in New Hampshire. “And, also, if I were in a studio, which we could set up very easily, I could beam in and take questions live.”

The hologram appearances would allow Yang to see questioners and interact with people in real time, he said.

“They would see my every gesture and movement,” he said.

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, a New York businessman with ties to Silicon Valley, has campaigned in Iowa with what he says are the urgent hard truths from what he’s learned behind the curtain of disruptive technology.

The business world is moving from paper-less to driver-less to, more and more, people-less systems. Jobs once considered secure, even prestigious, are at the mercy of the march of machines, the rise of robots, says this self-described entrepreneur.

In using some of that very technology, Yang says he likely won’t be the only human being (living or historical) to appear at his campaign events as a hologram. Yang, 44, said other politicians or celebrities may beam to the events for a conversation or rally or town hall with him.

“We can actually have some pop-culture and other figures appear,” Yang said. “If you’re going to go to all the trouble of having a hologram set up, you might as well have some other people appear and make it more fun and entertaining for people than just coming to see a hologram of me speaking. We would make it fun for people.”

Yang said he is in conversations with personalities from entertainment and other pursuits for the hologram events.

“I thought it would be a fun way to be in multiple places at once, and also very much tied into the message of the campaign around the fact that it is 2019 and soon it will be 2020 and things are changing, and we can’t just keep doing the same things over and over again and expect it to achieve the results we need,” Yang said.

Yang said he will continue to aggressively schedule in-person stops (such as a planned swing through Iowa in late April), but he thinks the hologram will add exposure and excitement to his campaign.

“Technology is really cool,” Yang said. “When you see the hologram, the whole thing is very fun and invigorating. Certainly when I saw the technology in action, I enjoyed it a great deal. So for folks in Iowa and other places, I think it will just be a fun way to experience it. It might be even more fun than seeing me in person.” ♦

Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa newspaperman. He and his family own and publish newspapers in Carroll, Jefferson and other neighboring communities.

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