‘I can’t be mayor forever’: Buttigieg talks his future in one-on-one

Not even a week after South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropped his name from the Democratic National Committee chairperson ballot, he began receiving phone calls from across the country. The 35-year-old mayor garnered national recognition while campaigning for the DNC spot.

“You got senators, governors, CEOs calling to ask me to be involved in this or that project,” said Buttigieg in a one-on-one interview. “But the first thing on my mind, because I still have my mayor hat on, is how can I use that to benefit our city in some way.”

Some of those callers asked Buttigieg to help Democrats better communicate with red states, or he may consider using “national opportunities” that could better help South Bend.

“I think the biggest thing is not getting caught up in the noise,” said Buttigieg. “It can be very flattering when you find yourself on national television, but I know I’m only there in the first place because of the strength and hard work of a team, including me, has done here in South Bend.”

Supporters in South Bend welcomed Buttigieg home more than a week ago, but this isn’t the first time his city has welcomed him back to his hometown. In 2014, Buttigieg returned after seven months in Afghanistan.

Buttigieg’s most recent return home was met with some criticism questioning his commitment to the city and its people.

“There were some concerns of people that said, ‘He’s done with us. It’s clear he has a different agenda,’” WSBT 22’s Suzanne Spencer said to Buttigieg.

“Here’s the thing. This is my home,” Buttigieg said. “I love this city. I came back to this city because I thought I could make a difference…even if I have another job someday, this will always be my home. I’m not looking for exits. I’m not looking for anything different because so much of what we have launched – there’s a lot more to do seeing it through.”

Buttigieg said he’ll keep an open mind about the future saying that staying South Bend’s mayor forever would probably not “be my story.”

“My biggest hope is to make myself useful,” he said. “I think the most important thing is not to form your dreams in terms of the job you want to have but in terms of the difference you want to make.”

‘Make yourself useful’

The final morning of the DNC race, the 35-year-old woke up “ready to go all the way,” he said. But after he and his team received the latest numbers, he decided to step out.

“I didn’t want to be responsible for prolonging a process that was already likely to go to multiple rounds and take quite a while,” he said. “Rather than just stay in it to say that I did, I thought I should say my piece and get out of the way.”

Buttigieg said his message – to change the way the Democratic party does business – shaped the debate in many ways.

“On a certain level, it’s not complicated,” Buttigieg said. “We have a message, and if that message is resonating and people think you’re a convincing messenger, then all you got to do is stick to it.”

And his message to South Bend is clear: if the city succeeds, so too will he.

“If I’m doing a good job for South Bend, then there’s going to be more opportunities. And if I don’t do a good job for South Bend, nothing else matters. I really trust that the future will take care of itself as long as we keep this city on the right track,” Buttigieg said.

He said he felt the same draw in 2011 when he ran for mayor as he did when running for DNC chair.

“I think there are moments when you realize you can make yourself useful. There’s something you bring to the table that fits a need,” Buttigieg said.

He called his hometown his “center of gravity” and said future opportunities are on the sidelines when it comes to his work in the city.

But undoubtedly, the mayor received a dose of the lime light, interacting with top party leaders and stopping to take photos with supporters like Cher.

“If I take my eye off the ball, if you ever take your eye off the ball, doing whatever job is in front of you now – that’s where people start to go stray,” he said.

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