SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Democrat Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of South Bend, Indiana, announced Wednesday that he is forming an exploratory committee for a 2020 presidential bid.
"The reality is there's no going back, and there's no such thing as 'again' in the real world. We can't look for greatness in the past," Buttigieg says in a video that includes before-and-after footage of South Bend, a Rust Belt city once described as "dying."
"Right now our country needs a fresh start," he says.
Buttigieg has touted his work to improve his city of 100,000 residents as he's prepared for an improbable jump from local politics to a presidential campaign. He's also said Democrats could benefit from a new generation of leaders as they try to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.
He's expected to travel to Iowa next week to meet with voters in the nation's first caucus state, followed by stops in New Hampshire.
Buttigieg is a Rhodes scholar who was first elected mayor of his hometown in 2011 at age 29 — making him the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with at least 100,000 residents. A lieutenant in the Navy Reserve, he served a tour in Afghanistan in 2014.
He raised his national profile with an unsuccessful 2017 run for Democratic National Committee chairman, saying the party needed a new start. He withdrew from the race before a vote when it became clear he didn't have the support to win.
Buttigieg has spent time in Iowa and other battleground states in recent years as he tried to build financial support and name recognition. He cracks that those who do know his name still aren't sure how to pronounce it. (It's BOO'-tah-juhj.) Most of the time he goes by "Mayor Pete."
Amid his campaign for a second term, Buttigieg came out as gay in a column in the local newspaper. He went on to win re-election with 80 percent of the vote. In 2018 — three years to the day after the column ran — he married his husband, middle school teacher Chasten Glezman.
If he were to win the Democratic nomination, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee from a major political party. Buttigieg is releasing a book in February about his life and his tenure leading South Bend.
Buttigieg announced in December that he wouldn't seek a third term as mayor, stoking speculation he would join a field of roughly two dozen candidates who may seek the Democratic nomination for president — most of them better-known and with experience in higher office, and all of them older. He is proud of his record as South Bend's mayor.
“When I took office, we were being dismissed as a dying community. That was just at the beginning of this decade. But we have faced some of our toughest challenges together and we have been able to get our city growing in a way that it hasn’t in half a century," he said during a news conference Wednesday.
"We didn’t change our trajectory because I went around saying things like, ‘I alone can fix it’ or ‘We’re going to make our city great again.’ What we did was we faced reality. We can to understand that there’s no turning back the clock, and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.”
Buttigieg said his campaign would focus on three principles: freedom, democracy and security.
“You’re not free if you can’t sue a credit card company after it gets caught ripping you off. You’re not free if you can’t marry the person that you love. You’re not free as a woman if male politicians or employers tell you what your healthcare choices ought to be. Those kinds of freedom are secured by good choices in government just as much as bad government can infringe on freedom,” he told reporters.
“Some are questioning whether the U.S. is a democracy. We need to look at profound and fundamental reforms to deal with cynical attacks on the democratic character of our politics right now," he said about democracy.
"When it comes to security, as someone who served overseas in uniform, I recognize that we are dealing with not only familiar and traditional security threats like counterterrorism and border security, but we have a whole new range of security threats emerging in the 21st century: cyber security, election security and climate security that are going to have concrete, specific impacts on the American way of life and they call for a very different approach than what we’ve been seeing right now.”
Buttigieg believes the country is at a turning point.
“We’re living through a total realignment of politics in this country, and I think that’s a good thing. But we’ve got to make choices that are anchored in the most important values that we share as a country," he said.
Buttigieg, 37, said his generation will experience the effects of the current political climate and needs to have a voice going forward.
“I belong to a generation that has a tremendous amount at stake in the consequences of the decisions that are being made right now. Ours is a generation that grew up when school shootings became the norm. We are the generation that is on the business end of effects we are already beginning to see when it comes to climate change," he said. "We are the generation that’s going to get the bill for unaffordable tax cuts for billionaires that have been passed. We stand to be the first generation ever to be worse off economically than our parents unless we change something.”