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    For Pete’s Sake, Mayor Pete

    By Andrea Shorter–

    Breaking News: The first openly LGBT Democratic candidate running for the office of President of the United States is surging in the polls. As of late, the RealClearPolitics polling average has candidate Pete Buttigieg pulling down some pretty hefty first place leads in early primary states Iowa at 24% and New Hampshire at 20%, outpacing national front runner former Vice President Biden by as much as 8 points.

    If you’ve been keeping up with even a smidgen of the rollicking ride of the Democratic primary race, then this news of Mayor Pete’s rise might not come as “breaking” per se. For the past several weeks, as pressure mounted on the sunny summertime upward swing of Senator Warren to put some U.S. dollar signs on the actual cost of implementing her Medicare for Every Single One of Us plan (somewhere way past one billion dollars), as Biden became somewhat befuddled by another gaffe or sidetracked as subject #1 of the backfiring Trump-Giuliani plot to ensnare him and his son in a cooked up corruption investigation in Ukraine, and as Minnesota’s U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar has yet to inch her way from the Midwesterner commonsensical tome on the debate stage into a hefty leap to claim the pragmatic moderate mantle from Biden, Buttigieg is managing to steadily swerve and bump his way into the middle passage for top contenders lane.

    It is more importantly historical than mere newsflash that an openly gay, same-sex married man from South Bend, Indiana, is proving a viable and preferable choice in the world’s most diverse, most crowded, and ever-expanding Democratic field to win his party’s nomination. The fact of his astounding ascendency is in and of itself quite rewarding, isn’t it? 

    Published on October 15, The Onion depicted Buttigieg in a Tin Man Halloween costume.

    As markers of our resistance and persistence become celebrated monuments—the Stonewall Inn is now a National Historic Landmark, the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s archives are now part of the Library of Congress, and millions of travelers from around the world will soon walk through the Harvey Milk Terminal 1 at San Francisco International Airport—the emergence of an LGBT presidential candidate seems right on time.

    Of course, like a rocketing Formula One on the Indy 500 Speedway, there have been and continue to be some skids, scrapes, and near spinouts along the accelerated ride to numero uno for Mayor Pete.

    It appears that, for the most part, since Mayor Pete’s entry onto the national stage as an openly gay, Harvard educated, Rhodes Scholar, military veteran, Christian, son of an immigrant, young Mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and near millennial-aged presidential candidate, the issue of his status as a gay man has lit little fire under the very tired narrative that suggests that African Americans would automatically oppose his candidacy or election because he is gay. Cursory attempts to bog down his entry in that old quagmire basically proved a non-starter to any real concerns as to why particularly older African Americans might not readily jump the Biden train for Mayor Pete. It wasn’t just due to blind loyalty to Biden or other better-known candidates.

    What was quickly revealed about Mayor Pete, as an initially unknown semi-urban mayor from Indiana, did not make for an ideal introduction to a national Black audience. For one, his admittedly rocky community relations record with the African American community in South Bend, and his seeming lack of any connection with or real interest in African Americans, or any communities of color as mayor or elsewhere in his life’s journey, were of aggregated concern. 

    Realizing and acknowledging this relationship deficit in his storyline and ambitious political quest, team Mayor Pete vowed to make progressive moves towards making him respectfully known to Black folks. His Douglas Plan: A Comprehensive Investment in the Empowerment of Black America to intentionally dismantle “racist structures and systems combined with equally intentional and affirmative investment of unprecedented scale in the freedom and self-determination of Black Americans” presented a reasonably well-informed and substantive better than average grasps of the issues concerning Black America, and critical response. Mayor Pete seems to get it, at least on paper.

    However, stumbles like the unfortunate tackiness of his campaign’s use of a stock photo of a Kenyan woman in materials meant to composite African American women was as cringeworthy as it was sadly laughable. What? Dude, we know you are polling at 0% with African Americans, but you all don’t have ONE sister on your team, in your corner, in South Bend, who could represent? Not one? It was a truly, truly sad reminder and exposure of the work ahead for you to demonstrate the inclusivity and diversity of support you promote and need. Or, maybe you think you don’t need it? You do. Come on, you can at least average 4% national African American support by February.

    This stock photo used by Buttigieg’s campaign drew criticism.

    Then, soon after the Kenyan photo debacle, a scorching call-out happened in the form of an editorial by The Root’s Michael Harriot. Mr. Harriot digs into a younger soon-to-be Mayor Pete’s worrisome and shortsighted on-camera remarks surmising that a lack of positive role models is chief in arresting African American youth from having a respectful appreciation for the value of a good education, while failing to denote the 100 talking points regarding structural, societal, systemic, and historical barriers that have far more immediately and consistently disadvantaged Black urban youth from good education versus not having real life Huxtable role models. The take down is brutal and unforgiving, to the point of name calling.

    As the beef became viral, Mayor Pete and Mr. Harriot have since had some conversation, reportedly with the former’s plea that he actually knows better than his younger, more eager commentary on the complex state of African Americans and public education, and has rededicated himself to present a more realistic analysis moving forward. After all, no one wants his campaign to die as Twitter fodder.

    While I am not a staunch Pete for President supporter, I am rooting for Mr. Buttigieg. He may or may not become the nominee, but he must appreciate that even as he ranks as a frontrunning contender, he cannot win without climbing past 0% with African Americans. Still, I want to keep the faith with Pete that his forward-thinking vision of an inclusive America is truly inclusive, respectful, and mindful.

    For Pete’s sake, I trust that he continues to keep faith that there are African Americans and other people of color that welcome him to the stage, and want to give him at least a half a chance as anyone else to make his case for the presidency. Most African Americans could really care less that Pete is gay, no more than we care to be considered the glaring blind spot in his race to the top.

    Andrea Shorter is a Commissioner and the former President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights and marriage equality. A Co-Founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

    Published on December 5, 2019