“I know I’m the young face in this conversation, but not only do I have more years of government experience under my belt than the President, I’ve got more years of executive government experience under my belt than the Vice President.”
– Pete Buttigieg
Mayor Pete Buttigieg has been a surprisingly ascendent candidate during the early going of the 2020 Democratic primaries, as voters have responded to his youth, his intellect, and his compelling biography, as both a military veteran and the first LGBTQ American to make a serious challenge for the presidency.
However, Buttigieg’s momentum hit a major roadblock late last month, when he made a disastrous return to South Bend in order to deal with the aftermath of the death of Eric Logan. The 54-year-old African-American man was shot by a South Bend police officer, in an act that was not recorded by the officer’s body camera. The officer claimed that Logan was wielding a knife when he was shot twice.
The mayor appeared at a town hall on June 23, where he was angrily denounced by residents of the city. It shined a lot on other aspects of South Bend’s racial dynamics, including Buttigieg’s 2012 firing of the city’s African-American police chief.
At one point during the town hall, the crowd voiced frustration with the Mayor’s increased attention on the national spotlight. Buttigieg told the frustrated crowd “I’m not asking for your vote.”
One man responded, “you are truly running for president and you want black people to vote for you. You [are] running for president and you want black people to vote for you — that’s not going to happen. That’s not going to happen. That’s not going to happen.”
Buttigieg drew some praise when he apologized for his handling of the matter during the first presidential debate, but there was little dispute that it has had an effect on his campaign’s momentum.
The results of that town hall and the episode overall threatens to hurt Buttigieg’s support, especially with African-American voters. This is certainly true, but it also illustrates a broader issue: mayors have no business running for president. This applies to Pete Buttigieg, Bill de Blasio, or any other mayor who has run directly for the presidency.
When candidates run for president, most of the time they have another job. The majority of them are governors or senators, while others come from nontraditional backgrounds like the world of self-help (Marianne Williamson) or business (Andrew Yang). Joe Biden is a former vice president but doesn’t currently hold an office.
For those who do, running for president requires being away from their normal duties much of the time. The Senate has long recesses, and candidates, it’s generally understood, are going to miss votes while running.
But being a mayor is different. It’s the kind of job that requires the level of concentration and leadership where being absent 80 percent of the time is actually going to have consequences, especially when disaster strikes.
Someone like Buttigieg will have a hard time dealing with a serious problem as mayor, and demonstrating to his constituents that he cares and is attentive when every person in the room knows that he’s due back in Iowa or New Hampshire the following morning.
Should there be any type of crisis in New York City — and knowing New York, there will be eventually — de Blasio will likely face the same dynamic. Pete Buttigieg is a remarkable man in many ways, and there’s much about his candidacy that is attractive. But the events of recent weeks show that there’s a good reason why no mayor has ever been directly elected president.
Mayors on the national campaign trail send the signal to their local constituents that they are moving on to a larger stage, seemingly choosing to neglect responsibilities which they were elected to shoulder in favor of national attention and grander ambitions. Worse, given the amount of responsibility placed on the office of mayor and how time-consuming any effective presidential campaign is, they may be on to something.