Media darling and South Bend, Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg has captivated the media and brought in amazing fundraising numbers for a Midwestern mayor running for president. But some of that attention has also shed light on Buttigieg’s history of gentrification.
As “Mayor Pete,” Buttigieg engaged in aggressive redevelopment projects for South Bend, demolishing 1,000 houses in 1,000 days. The core flaw of his redevelopment plan, according to citizens of color, was its gentrification. Poorer citizens were displaced as Buttigieg brought in more affluent development.
And that affluent development is working out a lot better for Buttigieg than for his residents.
Ryan Rans and Brad Toothaker, founding partners of private equity firm Great Lakes Capital, have been contributing to Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. So did senior employees of the Bradley Company.
Between January and March of 2019, upper-level employees of firms that have benefited from the gentrifying policies of Mayor Pete have donated nearly $10,000 directly to his campaign, according to campaign finance documents analyzed by Sludge.
Great Lakes Capital, in particular, has worked closely with the city’s redevelopment plan, turning properties into market-rate lofts and receiving massive investments from South Bend along the way.
Scott Ford, the person Buttigieg calls the “intellectual architect” of his urban policy, left city employment to work with the Bradley Company while he was facing ethics-related scrutiny. He also contributed to Mayor Pete’s presidential campaign.
South Bend is far from alone in dealing with abandoned and vacant houses — it’s a broad, Midwestern epidemic. And the struggle to address the problem without displacing poor residents through gentrification is part of the story of towns like Flint, Michigan as well.
But the particular tack taken by South Bend leaves a lot to be desired. Efforts to force the city to be more transparent on its decisions over what properties would be slated for demolition were met with complaint from Buttigieg, saying they were adding layers of bureaucracy to his urban renewal efforts.
That resistance to transparency led to Stacey Odom buying and working to restore a house she didn’t know was on South Bend’s slate for demolition. When she realized what was happening, a city employee laughed at her, according to a recent BuzzFeed News report.
“I mean, if someone is always coming to improve — what they think is an improvement for you, but what is actually gentrification — and you have to move somewhere else, you’re going with nothing,” Odom said. “Where is your home? It’s going to be nowhere.”
Odom’s story is part of the broader criticism of Buttigieg’s redevelopment lacking a humanizing element. Residents critical of the process have characterized Buttigieg as disconnected, data-driven and painted him as a self-styled Superman ignoring the human cost of his combat against what he calls a “contagion of blight.”
But so far, as he moves from mayoral to presidential ambitions, that attitude is working out well for him, at least.
Katelyn Kivel is a contributing editor and senior legal reporter for Grit Post in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Follow her on Twitter @KatelynKivel.