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Pete Buttigieg just completed his eighth and final year as Mayor of South Bend, Indiana. When Pete was first elected mayor in 2011, the manufacturing city had been “hemorrhaging jobs and population for a half-century,” spurred by the closing of the automaker Studebaker in the 1960’s. The population had declined by 30,000 from 1960-2010; unemployment reached 13%, and young people were leaving the city, “casting further doubt on whether this city will ever be able to recover,” as Newsweek wrote in 2011.

But that same year, Pete was elected mayor at just 29 years old. Over the next eight years he would transform South Bend into a 21st century city with new, innovative industries and hundreds of millions of dollars in new private investment. He reversed the decades-long decline in population and saw five straight years of population increases under his leadership. He cut unemployment to its lowest rate in nearly two decades, decreased poverty rates for communities of color at faster rates than their counterparts in Indiana and nationally, and was re-elected in 2015 with 80% of the vote. Here are the facts about how Pete helped South Bend transform and expanded opportunity for its residents:


Q: What has Pete done to address racial inequities in South Bend?

During Pete’s tenure as mayor, he worked to expand economic opportunity for all residents in South Bend and reverse a decades-long trend of decline in the city. Since Pete took office, the unemployment rate for Black residents has declined by nearly 70% - greater than the decline in unemployment for Black residents across the state and nation, according to one-year census estimates. The poverty rate for Black residents in South Bend also dropped by nearly 40% since Pete took office. 

Pete was the first Mayor of South Bend to create an Office of Diversity and Inclusion, he commissioned the first study on the racial wealth divide in South Bend to better quantify economic disadvantages, and he brought My Brother’s Keeper initiative to the city, which has positively impacted 14,000 people in South Bend, 87% of whom are boys and young men of color.

Pete also commissioned the city's first study to determine how the city of South Bend can better award city contracts to women-owned and minority-owned businesses, and his administration passed reforms to improve the city’s procurement process as a result of the study in order to actively spur wealth generation for communities of color.

Pete also partnered with a non-profit to open a training center for small business owners in a predominantly black neighborhood in South Bend to support Black entrepreneurs and provide training for small business owners, and he implemented Ban the Box in South Bend (before it was overridden by the state) to help eliminate barriers to employment for ex-offenders.

Q: What actions has Pete taken to improve life for Black residents in South Bend?

Pete has routinely been the first Mayor in South Bend history to shed light on opportunity gaps and address them by promoting equity and economic inclusion in order to improve the experiences of Black residents in South Bend. As a result, South Bend was recognized in 2018 as one of five high-performing “race-informed cities” that are “intentionally addressing racial disparities in policy and practice and constantly work[ing] to close gaps” by Governing Magazine’s National Survey of American Cities.

Q: What has Pete done on police reform in South Bend?

Pete required all police officers to take civil rights, implicit bias, and diversity trainings, and he installed a majority-minority civilian police board to oversee all decisions involving police discipline and provide civilian oversight of the police department. Pete also upgraded cameras on patrol cars and outfitted every police officer in the patrol division with body cameras. Pete also reworked police department protocol to update the use-of-force policy and emphasize community-oriented policing, which helps officers improve their relationships with the communities they serve.

Pete has also made South Bend a leader in police transparency by launching an online portal to allow the public to view data on use-of-force complaints, recruitment efforts, police department policies and legal records on specific cases -- giving residents tools to hold police accountable.

Q: How has Pete been an advocate for immigrants in South Bend?

As Mayor, Pete has been a strong defender of immigrant rights. Pete partnered with a non-profit to create an innovative, first-of-kind program to provide ID cards for undocumented immigrants in South Bend to help residents come out of the shadows and access vital government services. Pete has also refused to go along with the Trump Administration’s draconian immigration policies, telling residents “our police are here to keep you safe, not to practice federal immigration enforcement” or tear families apart.

Q: What has Pete done to reduce homelessness in South Bend?

As Mayor, Pete’s administration reduced homelessness by nearly 33%, increasing resources to help homeless families, investing millions of dollars in the creation of new affordable housing units and permanent housing units for homeless families, and launching a city program to help residents afford repairs on their homes. Pete also opened weather amnesty shelters for the homeless for the first time in city history several years ago -- and last year, the city bought a vacant former Salvation Army building to serve as a weather amnesty shelter.

Pete also created a new outreach position at the city to connect homeless individuals to resources, and funded a coordinated entry supervisor to oversee the placement of vulnerable people into stable shelters. He also joined a national effort to eradicate veteran homelessness by connecting homeless veterans with housing and other services, and is close to achieving “functional zero.” 

Q: What were arrest rates like for Black residents in South Bend for drug possession and marijuana possession?

Arrest rates for marijuana and drug possession are generally low in South Bend. They trended downward for the vast majority of Pete’s time as Mayor, and Black residents were less likely to be arrested for marijuana in South Bend than in the state of Indiana -- and they were less likely to be arrested for drug possession in South Bend than in the state of Indiana or the rest of the country during Pete's second term. However, there is no question that marijuana policies need a serious overhaul and that disparities will continue to exist throughout the nation so long as laws that criminalize marijuana are on the books and systemic racism penetrates every level of our criminal justice system.

That’s why Pete introduced the Douglass Plan to take action at the federal level to dismantle systemic racism -- and it's why Pete proposed decriminalizing marijuana possession and retroactively reducing sentences for those who are currently incarcerated. By enacting these reforms, we can make our criminal justice system more equal.

What South Bend leaders have to say about Mayor Pete:

  • “[Mayor Pete] campaigned on a promise that with the right ideas and the right leadership, our city could come to believe in itself again….he actually delivered on that promise.” Read more.
  • “When gun violence strikes our communities, or natural disasters devastated our neighborhoods, Pete has been there, helping to hold our community together.” Read more.
  • “[Pete] has been the person on the ground for eight years listening to the concerns.” Read more.