Pete Buttigieg is the current Mayor of South Bend, Indiana and a former candidate in the 2017 DNC Chair election. He is a Rhodes Scholar, a veteran of the War in Afghanistan, and the first openly gay executive in Indiana.

The Politic: What do you think is the best way to attract more ambitious, elite college students to Middle America?

Pete Buttigieg: I think that a lot of the energy of the Midwest has to do with the people who are coming here and the people who are coming home. When I first left here, I had this belief that success meant getting out. So, once I had the opportunity to leave, I took it and went off to college. But, once I left, I began to understand what it meant to be from somewhere and what it meant to have a home. I think that, for me, this place has given me the chance to give back to my community. I think this region of America is also attractive because I think that people want to be somewhere comfortable. They want to be in a place that’s more livable and a bit more affordable. I believe that cities like South Bend provide reliable, safe places to live, work and raise a family.

TP: How does your military service affect your public service in government?

PB: I think that there is a relationship between your service in uniform and your service in office. Now, I don’t think everyone has to serve in the military if they want to hold public office. However, I do believe it’s a very important way to learn how to be a part of something that’s bigger than yourself. In the military, it’s not all about you. For people who want to serve their communities and their country, that’s a very important lesson to understand. My experience was especially unusual because I was elected as the Mayor of South Bend

My experience was especially unusual because I was elected as the Mayor of South Bend and then I was deployed. It was a major status shift–I went from having my name on the door and a reasonably sized staff that would set up my schedule to being a junior officer working for my commanding officers. My name wasn’t even spelled correctly the first time I got my uniform. The experience taught me a lot. It reminded me of the value that I get from my team every single day. Having a dedicated, hard-working group of people to serve with you is a real privilege.

Another important lesson that I learned while I was serving related directly to cities. Part of my job as an officer in Afghanistan required me to deal with vehicle movement. So, stationed at a base at the city of Kabul, I got a good look at what it’s like to live in a city that doesn’t have all of the resources that we take for granted every day. In a city with no animal control, you’re going to see a lot of animals crossing the street in the middle of the day. When you don’t have organized trash disposal in a city, you’re going to see garbage start piling up instead of getting picked up. You get reminded of how much of our life depends on things we take for granted and you begin to really understand what makes a city run day in and day out.

TP: What is your greatest concern for the nation?

PB: My biggest concern right now has to do with the idea of nationhood–what makes us one country, what holds us together. We’ve got to demonstrate that we recognize what it means to be an American even when the details are politically contested. We need to remember the reason why public service is so important instead of focusing on the challenges of politics. I want this nation to have a tighter sense of identity and I think that promoting service is a great way to foster that identity. Of course, that service doesn’t have to be in the military; but, regardless of how we serve our communities and our cities and our states, I think that we can improve our sense of country. Right now, national unity is under strain. When you’re a mayor, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep your community together. You think about the pressures that divide us along racial lines,

Of course, that service doesn’t have to be in the military; but, regardless of how we serve our communities and our cities and our states, I think that we can improve our sense of country. Right now, national unity is under strain. When you’re a mayor, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to keep your community together. You think about the pressures that divide us along racial lines, along social lines, along economic lines; despite those divisions, we have to remind people that we’re one community that shares a single future.

TP: You’ve said you “don’t want to be known as the young mayor or the gay mayor, but as a good mayor.” What is your conception of a “good mayor?” What does that mean to you?

PB: There’s a lot to unpack there. So, I think first of all, being a good mayor is making sure that things aren’t about you. There are a lot of things that I want to happen in this community that are desirable no matter who you are or what your age is or where you came from. Everyone needs the trash to get picked up. Everyone wants to feel safe and make sure that their neighbors are safe as well. I want to always make sure that people don’t have to worry about those basic necessities in their busy lives. So, for me, service is about fading away into the background. You want to serve from behind the scenes to let people live the way they want. You can’t concentrate on whatever’s happening in your life if you don’t have clean, safe drinking water. As a mayor, you have to always ask yourself, why is it you and not someone else in that seat? So, I just try to govern and lead the values that I was raised with in order to help this city run and grow and thrive. There are, of course, some really hard challenges. Sometimes you’re faced with situations where there is no technical answer–where there is no way to make someone else better off without making someone else worse off. In situations like that, I just try to take the values of the community and implement them as best I can in my decision making.

So, for me, service is about fading away into the background. You want to serve from behind the scenes to let people live the way they want. You can’t concentrate on whatever’s happening in your life if you don’t have clean, safe drinking water. As a mayor, you have to always ask yourself, why is it you and not someone else in that seat? I just try to govern and lead the values that I was raised with in order to help this city run and grow and thrive. There are, of course, some really hard challenges. Sometimes you’re faced with situations where there is no technical answer–where there is no way to make someone else better off without making someone else worse off. In situations like that, I just try to take the values of the community and implement them as best I can in my decision making.

I just try to govern and lead with the values that I was raised with in order to help this city run and grow and thrive. There are, of course, some really hard challenges. Sometimes you’re faced with situations where there is no technical answer–where there is no way to make someone else better off without making someone else worse off. In situations like that, I just try to take the values of the community and implement them as best I can in my decision making.

Rapid Fire Questions

TP: Where do you get your news?

PB: Three main sources: newspapers, Twitter, and the barber shop.

TP: What place would you most like to visit?

PB: Antarctica.

TP: If you weren’t in your current job, what would you be doing?

PB: Hopefully I don’t have to find out any time soon. But, if I had to say, something involving literature.

TP: Which living person do you most admire?

PB: I don’t know of anyone who has mastered their field as much as Michael Jordan.
TP: What is your advice for college students?

PB: Well, I think my best piece of advice for students at Yale is to give yourself more unstructured time. I think that, now more than ever before, students can get so programmed and so spun up in the business of college. You feel like everything you’re working on needs more and more time and attention. Of course, it can be important, but you need to hear your own voice as well. This lesson was really important to me when I was in college–try to make more unstructured time for yourself. I love to just go on a walk and see where my feet take me. It’s useful to just sit down and think and see where your mind goes.

TP: Thank you very much, Mayor Buttigieg!