I have stated in the past that in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama did not get my vote just because he was black, he earned it. Similarly, Mayor Peter Buttigieg will not get my vote just because he is gay. He, too, will have to earn it.
It seems that recently quite a few of my white, gay male friends have grown annoyed at me over articles about Mayor Pete, some claiming that the I and the public are being overtly hostile to him and holding him to a higher standard. They say he is being targeted. I argue that gay men are perhaps just hypersensitive to it because they have a vested interest in the possibility of an openly gay candidate winning the presidential office.
My perspective, however, is that of a black gay man and proud registered Democrat. It is one derived not by the thoughtless emotive response but rather research and gathering as much information I can, available from reputable sources to help me reach an informed decision.
Joe Biden could make the same claim of being targeted by the media, especially as the oldest candidate running. Ageism surely exists, and Biden has not been immune to it. His stamina and mental clarity are challenged at each turn, and every time he opens his mouth, and something crazy comes out, the press runs with it, blasting on all cylinders, even assigning Biden the moniker of “Human Gaff Machine.”
So Buttigieg is treated no differently than Biden, who is seemingly the current leader in the field of candidates and most likely to be the nominee.
I urge white people, white gay men specifically, who are very excited about the prospect of the first openly President, to revel in the marvel of the moment, but not be dismissive of how gay men of color feel about Pete Buttigieg as we continue to assess and form our opinions about him. Contrary to a recent article at Insider.com, Buttigieg’s issue of complicated race relations is not a ‘creation of the media.‘
The lens through which black gay men and white gay men view Buttigieg is and always will be different. It is somewhat condescending to chastise African Americans for highlighting Buttigieg’s very real, tumultuous past with race relations as we demand his accountability and efforts for him to do better.
That said, I have grown more impressed lately with him on the campaign trail, inclusive of finally committing to quality media buys and public meetings in various black communities within the south. But is it too little too late?
His efforts to connect with African Americans are resulting in a slightly rising poll number within that demographic. I’m happy to report that news but it doesn’t mean I will ignore the countless black citizens of South Bend who have continued to voice frustration with what they saw as Buttigiegs’s inaction in dealing with police brutality and harassment within his city. That matter is essential to me as it is reflective of how he would handle such issues on a national level.
Take, for example, the Logan tragedy in South Bend. Resident Eric Logan was unarmed and shot and killed by a police officer. Reportedly cops were responding to a report of a man trying to steal a car. Breaking protocol, the officer who murdered Logan, turned off his body cam first before shooting. Many argue that detail alone should have warranted termination, but the officer was instead put on paid leave pending “investigation,” and the city erupted, demanding justice.
In 2012 South Bend City Council Member Henry Davis Jr wrote a letter to the Justice Department asking for an investigation into the Logan case and what he saw as systemic police violence against black citizens. He also accused the Buttigieg administration of “sweeping it under the rug” and further accused the police of retaliation.
According to The Guardian:
In his letter to the justice department, Davis, who is once again running for council and likely to win a seat in November, also noted that an unarmed black man died in police custody in 2012. Davis said he was harassed by the department’s white officers after sending the letter, including one incident in which police pulled him over and drew guns on him.
Despite the four officers being caught on tape, they decided to sue Davis for libel – but tellingly, they did not dispute his claim, but instead argued Davis did not have the authority to send the letter to the DOJ on city council letterhead. I mean seriously? Really?
The Buttigieg administration’s attorneys refused to represent Davis in the suit, a suit where Davis believes city attorneys were obligated to defend him. He sued the city of South Bend, and ultimately a settlement was reached, which included a gaga order. He rejected the agreement and fought for damages as well as the freedom to publicly discuss his case.
Adding to Davis’ cover-up and retaliation claim was the peculiar matter involving Shirley Newbill, the mother of Eric Logan. Newbill sued the city of South Bend for the wrongful death of her son. On two separate occasions since Logan’s death, Newbill’s cars were set on fire in front of her home. After investigations, both the Fire and Police Departments of South Bend concluded engine fires caused both occurrences. This grew further suspicion since, in both incidents, the cars had been turned off, parked and not driven for several hours. Under Buttigieg, the city refused to investigate the incidents as suspected arson.
I want to be clear here. In the incidents mentioned above are robust, however, I do not place the blame of other’s actions on Buttigieg. It is his response to the matters though where he seemingly lost the confidence of his black constituents.
In 2012’s sea of swirling racial turmoil in South bend, Buttigieg’s timing could not have been worse than when he demoted the city’s first black Police Chief Darryl Boykins for poorly handling dispatch calls while the white officer who killed Eric Logan remained employed and on the payroll. Already facing public cries of a lack of diversity on the police force, the percentage of black officers in South Bend soon thereafter fell from 10% to 5% between 2014 to 2018.
Today, I commend Buttigieg for acknowledging that the lack of diversity in the police force is a personal failure of his tenure. He admits he “couldn’t get it done.” He owns it and has vowed to change it. His acknowledgment, accountability, and response to adversity make all the difference in building public confidence. This is how trust is earned.
I am extremely cautious not to make Mayor Pete the scapegoat for America’s troubled history with race. Mayors, Governors, and the President inherit all of that history upon his or her first day in office. However, it is what they do to change America’s trajectory for the better that will draw either adoration or the ire of disdain. Michael Patton, President of the NAACP South Bend Chapter, has become a strong ally to Buttigieg and has helped to assemble a team of community leaders to assist the mayor in address the racial challenges. Will it make a difference is anyone’s guess but Joe Biden has strong ties to the African American community so Buttigieg’s might be fighting an uphill battle there.
If we are to look solely at a person’s history in office, Buttigieg has some real issues to overcome with black voters. Lately, though, his policy proposals addressing economic, racial disparity, and justice matters have black voters listening more closely to what he has to say. That fuels my optimism about his ability to win over black voters but again, I ask is there enough time to do so before the upcoming election?
Though slowly, it does seem Mayor Pete is gaining a little traction with black voters. I hope it continues so we can celebrate all of his impressive qualities and accomplishments, further dispelling the myth that Buttigieg is doing poorly with black people because ‘black people are homophobic.’ Buttigieg’s issues with black voters have very little to do with who he’s sleeping with.
There are over 50 million African Americans in the country – among them; millions are gay. If black people were monolithically homophobic, Buttigieg would have never gotten the black vote in South Bend in the first place, which allowed him to win his Mayoral race in 2011.
This piece is an opinion piece by one Contributing Writer for Instinct Magazine and may not reflect the opinion of the magazine or other Contributing Writers.
13 thoughts on “Buttigieg Still Struggles With Black Voters – And Not Because He’s Gay”
Mayor Pete seems to have decided to stay in the centrist lane, which is why he won’t be getting my vote in the primary. Should he get the nom I have no problem pulling the lever for him in November
Thanks for your article. I am a gay white man and was very impressed by Pete. He comes across as very intelligent, a good listener and communicator. I find him a little too conservative though, and my leanings are toward Bernie or Warren. I knew he had a problem with his African American constituents, but I didn’t know all the specifics you reported. And, I must admit, that I did feel that many in the African American community didn’t like him because of his sexual orientation. And, part of my thinking on that is the fact that much of the political activism in the African American community has been rooted in the Church.
Very one sided and disappointed to see that this qualifies as journalism.
Yes, I assume facts you don’t like are never pleasant.
Mayor Pete is plainly being held to a higher standard than the other candidates, particularly with the issue of race relations. If South Bend had a black mayor, and similarly fired the corrupt black police chief, there would have been no protests.
Although I was initially glad that a gay man was running for President, I knew nothing about him. But, hearing him speak and watching the way he conducts himself are the reasons why I am now enthusiastic about his candidacy.
Howard, thank you for your reply. In my article, I intended to give examples as to why two different conversations are happening around Pete Buttigieg, one between white gay people, and the other between black gay people. Buttiege emerged as more than a candidate, as he is now both an anomaly and pop culture figure. His media coverage extends beyond a regular candidate in some cases, but he is only being called to task for his record. That is of his own doing, not the media’s doing.
That said, I share in my article that I think he is making the efforts to bridge the gap, and I commend him. But I wonder if it’s too late.
“…gay men are perhaps just hypersensitive,” WOW!
The ENTIRE sentence is as follows:
” I argue that gay men are perhaps just hypersensitive to it because they have a vested interest in Mayor Pete’s candidacy as the first openly gay person to run for office”
“…gay men are hypersensitive,”
If you are going extract four words from a sentence, that completely misconstrues the original context. My assessment is no different than the observation that the African American population was far more hypersensitive to how President Obama was treated as both a candidate and President by some parties.
And who are “these Harris supporters?” I was not a Harris supporter or a supporter of any candidate at this stage, so your entire assessment is without merit. This article is about Mayor Pete Buttigieg and has nothing to do with supporting another candidate.
2% polling nationally amoung African Americans indicates Pete STILL has a serious black people problem.
So what are you suggesting? I made it all up?
I am an African-American gay man. I am 42 and I live in the South. My experience in the community is vastly different than what is written here. African-Americans are supporting Joe Biden and the lack of support for the candidates have been used to drive other agendas.
Many African-American gay males with a heavy online presence supported Kamala Harris. When Mayor Pete began to have sustained success, he suddenly became a symbol of oppression. To listen to those like the author, he is some crypto racist who has been able to fool people about his true intentions. As seen in the tone of this article, these Harris supporters erased Mayor Pete’s identity in a way that they would never allow Kamala Harris’ identity to be erased.
We need to call petty out when we see it and stop giving people passes for setting back the cause for political expediency.
Contrary to what is presented in this attack article, Mayor Pete enjoys the support of the vast majority of African-Americans in his city. Many of whom understand that here are a lot of people writing about their community who did not care until Mayor Pete ran for office, and when they did, they only cared about negative information. I think the lack of balance in this article is just another example.
The LGBT community, including LGBT youth, deserve to be able to be proud of Mayor Pete’s success.Mayor Pete will be President of the United States one day because he connects with people and those that actually talk with him come away impressed. Let us remember the people who were all to happy to erase his identity now because they will likely pop back up later when Mayor Pete’s time comes.
Well said. Thank you!