Politics

‘A new generation of American leadership’: Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg campaigns in Miami

‘It’s our turn to do something to defend American democracy,’ says Pete Buttigieg during fundraiser in Miami

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks to a crowd of voters during a grassroots fundraiser at Wynwood Walls on Monday, May 20, 2019.
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Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana and 2020 presidential candidate, speaks to a crowd of voters during a grassroots fundraiser at Wynwood Walls on Monday, May 20, 2019.

A mix of confused tourists wondered why the usually open black gates of Wynwood Walls were closed Monday as they crossed paths with supporters of Democratic presidential contender Pete Buttigieg before his speaking event at the Miami art landmark.

Ahead of the event’s start, supporters passed the time by chatting and practicing how to pronounce the South Bend, Indiana, mayor’s name. (“Boot-a-jedge,” several sounded out, letting others repeat.) Before the fundraiser, Buttigieg sat down for an interview with Telemundo and was scheduled to attend a private high-dollar fundraiser in Miami Beach’s Flamingo Park neighborhood after leaving Wynwood. Tickets for the Wynwood event started at $25. Across town, former Vice President Joe Biden was holding his own fundraiser in Coral Gables.

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Attendees listen to Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and 2020 presidential candidate, as he speaks during a grassroots fundraiser at Wynwood Walls on Monday, May 20, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

Buttigieg, who announced his candidacy in April, acknowledged he had yet to do much campaigning in the Sunshine State before delving into myriad topics of national and local importance, from sea-level rise to immigration to voting-rights restoration for former felons.

“We weren’t sure if anybody would come,” he quipped, “but this takes care of that. Florida’s been pretty good to us. We just might come back.”

He told the crowd that freedom means having the right to access healthcare, being able to earn a living wage and to secure the country against climate change.

“It is time for us to treat climate like the security issue that it is,” he said.

During his roughly 20-minute speech, Buttigieg said the 2020 election is unlike previous ones, calling it “a moment in between chapters in the American story,” and he pushed back on the Trump administration’s policy of family separation.

“The last time I was in church, I was hearing scripture about taking care of the least among us and defending the poor and welcoming the stranger, which is another word for immigrant,” he said.

With Buttigieg was Sean Shaw, Florida’s first black attorney general nominee who recently endorsed the South Bend mayor, who has struggled to gain interest from black voters. Though Buttigieg, 37, is polling in the top five in a crowded Democratic field, a recent Change Research poll for the Post and Courier found him polling at 0 percent with African-American voters in South Carolina, a key primary state. Tampa-area Democratic state Rep. Adam Hattersley also threw his support behind Buttigieg at the event.

Buttigieg described himself to the crowd as “not the prototypical presidential candidate,” saying Washington could benefit from someone outside the D.C. landscape with experience running a community. In a FOX News town hall Sunday, Buttigieg said his age gave him a personal stake in how issues like climate change will affect Americans in the coming decades.

“Maybe it’s time for a new generation of American leadership,” he said. “I see it in this crowd. I see a multi-generational alliance.”

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Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and 2020 presidential candidate, greets a voter in a crowd during a grassroots fundraiser at Wynwood Walls on Monday, May 20, 2019. MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com

It’s a message that South Florida supporters had already embraced. Mike and David Frollini, 68 and 66, respectively, said they thought it was time for a younger candidate who could bring energy to the race. Alex Sutton, a 17-year-old student at Coral Gables Senior High, said he likes Buttigieg because he shows that young people can get involved in politics and make a difference.

If elected, Buttigieg would be both the youngest president in history and the first openly gay president.

But Sutton, who will vote in his first presidential election in 2020, said he is torn between Buttigieg and Biden. While the Democratic primaries are still a little under a year away, Florida polls have shown Biden ahead. When asked about how he intends to surpass Biden, Buttigieg said he plans to hold more events and prioritize grassroots campaigning.

“I think in a field like this with two dozen candidates you’re not running against any one competitor, you’re kind of running against the entire field and what we’re seeing is that our support continues to grow,” he said. “[The polls] only become meaningful maybe a couple weeks out from the vote.”

Freddy Balsera, a Miami Democratic consultant and one of the hosts of Monday’s event, said Buttigieg projects an image and character that should help unify a party that has gone through an identity crisis.

“There’s general good will toward Mayor Pete,” said Balsera. “I have the utmost respect for Joe Biden, but in the case of Mayor Pete, there’s that inspirational factor.”

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