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Openly gay South Bend mayor seeks Democratic leadership post
by Matt Simonette
2017-02-18

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Openly gay South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg says he is running as chair of the Democratic National Committee ( DNC ) so he can help give his party "a fresh start."

"We've got to get, as a party, to a place where we have a clear vision for the future, one that acknowledges that the lifeblood of the party is at the state and local levels," he said. "The DNC should be a resource for them, not the other way around."

Seeking the top spot in the Democratic party has been a challenge for Buttigieg, the first out executive politician in Indiana. He's up against multiple candidates, two of whom—U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison ( Minnesota ) and former Obama Administration Labor Secretary Tom Perez—have emerged as favorites. The contest between Ellison and Perez has shaped up to be a replay-by-proxy of the 2016 primary election, with Ellison backed by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders ( Vermont ) and Perez backed by former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. A final vote from party officials takes place in Atlanta Feb. 25.

Buttigieg, however, thinks he can take the party in a different direction than Ellison or Perez, and has not been shy in his criticism of President Donald J. Trump. On Feb. 11, he referred to Trump as the country's "draft-dodging chickenhawk president" at a Baltimore DNC forum. He was also the only DNC leadership candidate to take part in one of the women's marches on Jan. 21. U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth ( Illinois ) is among his supporters.

"A lot of people are saying that the candidates want the same things, but I believe I'm the person who can actually do those things," he added. "Everybody is saying we need someone from the next generation—I'm of the next generation. Everybody says we need to do more work on the state and local level—I'm a local official. It's my bread-and-butter, local and state party-building."

He wants to see the DNC rival what he called a Republican savviness for building strength in statehouses.

"Those are where things that affect lives—jobs, things targeting the LGBT community, Medicaid expansion and redistricting—are decided," Buttigieg explained. "… Democrats are still a little bit slow in catching up to Republicans, realizing how important that is. Tactically, that means the party has to be more attentive to our role in supporting state and local organizations."

Buttigieg is now on his second term as South Bend mayor; he entered office in 2012 and began his second term last year after winning 78 percent of the vote. He publicly came out in a 2015 newspaper editorial, becoming the first openly gay executive politician in Indiana's history.

He said continuing to elect Democrats was important for advancing the freedoms of LGBT people, noting that, "Trump has engaged in a certain amount of pink-washing, trying to present himself as better than most Republicans on these issues, but Mike Pence is vice president of the United States, and you better believe he has some influence in [the White House]. He is one of the most dramatically anti-LGBT officials among American politicians."

Buttigieg further stressed that the LGBT community has to focus on building coalitions with other constituencies, particularly ones who are vulnerable in the current political climate.

"I don't think anyone who specializes in targeting vulnerable communities, the way Donald Trump does, can ever be considered a friend of the LGBT community, even if we're not the community he's harming at the moment. We all have to stand up and stick up for each other," he explained.

Party officials, activists and commentators have lavished praise on Buttigieg recently; in 2016, The New York Times speculated about whether he, as an openly gay man, could ever be elected president. But he said the DNC run was not intended as a steppingstone to politics on the national stage.

"My plan was never to run for DNC chair," he said. "I don't think any kid growing up wants to one day be a national party chair. I'm doing this because I think the times called for it. The times changed for all of us in some way after the last election. One of the most important things I can do is help organize and lead the opposition. I don't know what it will do for my political career. It may not be helpful, but the best thing I can do is put myself forward."


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