South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg launches presidential exploratory committee, could be nation's first openly gay nominee

The 37-year-old mayor joins a growing list of 2020 Democratic contenders.

January 23, 2019, 12:27 PM

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old, two-term Democratic mayor of South Bend, Indiana, who could make history as the nation's first openly gay presidential nominee of a major party, took a significant step toward a run for the White House on Wednesday, announcing he is forming a presidential exploratory committee, the precursor to an official campaign.

Buttigieg (whose name is of Maltese origin and pronounced "boot-edge-edge") made the announcement in a video posted to his social media accounts.

"I belong to a generation that is stepping forward right now," Buttigieg said in his announcement video, "We're the generation that lived through school shootings, that served in the wars after 9/11. And we're the generation that stands to be the first to make less than our parents, unless we do something different."

In a news conference in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday following his announcement, Buttigieg, who was married last year to Chasten Glezman in a ceremony in South Bend, remarked on the potentially historic nature of his campaign.

"When I came out, Mike Pence was the governor of Indiana. When I joined the military, 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' was still the law of the land," Buttigieg told reporters, "When it first crossed my mind that I might run for office someday, I believed that coming out would be a career death sentence. So the world is changing, but it's not changing on its own. And if by bringing forward good ideas I can be part of chipping away at that, then that's one more reason to give this a look."

Same-sex marriage supporters rejoice after the U.S Supreme Court handed down a ruling legalizing same-sex marriage, June 26, 2015, outside the Supreme Court in Washington.
Alex Wong/Getty Images, FILE

But despite the history that his candidacy could make, Buttigieg says the 2020 race should not solely be about candidate identities.

"I am the first openly gay person to seek the Democratic nomination. But it's not just about profile, at the end of the day this has to be about ideas," Buttigieg said.

"I'm also mindful of the fact that this just might make it a little easier for the next person who comes along," Buttigieg added, "My sincere hope is by the time our kids are old enough, once we have kids, to understand politics. That it won't even be newsworthy. And maybe that's how it is in some of the coastal cities but not right now in Indiana, so we have a lot of work to do."

Buttigieg's husband tweeted on Wednesday that he is "so proud," to witness the beginning of his campaign.

A graduate of Harvard University and Oxford, Buttigieg is the first openly-gay executive in Indiana history.

He came out publicly in a 2015 essay in the South Bend Tribune, less than two weeks before the U.S. Supreme Court legalized gay marriage nationally in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges.

Buttigieg, who ran unsuccessfully for chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 2017, is also set to embark on a book tour next month, beginning Feb. 10 in South Bend.

While not as well-known as many of the other top contenders for the Democratic nomination in 2020, Buttigieg has previously met with former President Barack Obama to discuss the upcoming presidential campaign. He also has made numerous appearances on cable networks in recent months, made a visit to the crucial early voting state of Iowa, and used his bid to become DNC chair to raise his profile and cast himself as a pragmatic politician who can appeal to voters in the Midwest, a key constituency Democrats hope to win back in 2020."

In an interview last year with ABC News' Political Director Rick Klein and Deputy Political Director MaryAlice Parks, Buttigieg said the coming campaign will test which "traditional" rules of American politics still apply in the era of President Donald Trump.

Mayor Pete Buttigieg talks with an AP reporter at his office in South Bend, Ind., Jan. 10, 2019.
Nam Y. Huh/AP

"I think in 2020 we're going to find out which of the rules of politics still apply and which ones have been broken forever. You know the president of the United States is basically a game show host. So I think any traditional answer ... about paths to power in this country have at least been suspended if not done away with forever," Buttigieg said in the interview.

Buttigieg, who announced last year that he was not seeking a re-election to his current office, was just 29 when first elected as South Bend’s mayor in 2011, making him the youngest mayor of a U.S. city with a population of at least 100,000 people, according to the Washington Post.

He was commissioned as a Navy intelligence officer in 2009 and in 2013, while serving as mayor, he was deployed to Afghanistan for seven months.

"Being gay has had no bearing on my job performance in business, in the military, or in my current role as mayor," Buttigieg wrote, "It makes me no better or worse at handling a spreadsheet, a rifle, a committee meeting, or a hiring decision. It doesn’t change how residents can best judge my effectiveness in serving our city: by the progress of our neighborhoods, our economy, and our city services."

At age 37, Buttigieg is thus far the youngest major Democratic candidate to declare a presidential bid to unseat President Donald Trump in 2020.

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