“Mayor Pete” is, technically, no longer Mayor Pete.
Pete Buttigieg’s eight years in office in South Bend, Ind., ended on New Year’s Day, when a new mayor was sworn in. Mr. Buttigieg, known colloquially as Mayor Pete almost since the start of his campaign last January, joined the ranks of former office holders seeking the presidency, who sometimes seem to hope that voters don’t quite notice they have slipped from power.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., to cite one example, is not a former anything to his staff. In a heads-up to reporters last week, the Biden campaign advised that “Vice President Biden will attend a community event in Derry, New Hampshire.”
Stylebooks may advise newsrooms to use “former” before titles of politicians out of office, but said former office holders can be touchy about giving up the aura of power and prestige — and it has become common political courtesy, regardless, to refer to them by the titles they once held.
In an “exit interview” on Tuesday with a South Bend TV station, WNDU, Mr. Buttigieg professed to be “reluctant to hand over the keys” to his office, “just because I love the job so much.” His mayoral chief of staff, Laura O’Sullivan, posted a picture of him at his desk in the County-City Building at 10:42 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie, captioned “final quiet moments.’’
Mr. Buttigieg, who turns 38 on Jan. 19, has the rare distinction of being a presidential candidate whose day job ended in the heat of his national candidacy. He leaves the stewardship of the city, where he grew up, as a household name — though a name even locals sometimes stumble over. Is it “Buddha-judge,” as most in South Bend seem to say, or, as the presidential campaign mnemonic has it, “Boot Edge Edge”?
One thing for sure: The candidate will no longer be able to say, “Mayor Pete is fine.”
Elected when he was 29 — the youngest mayor ever of a city of more than 100,000 — Mr. Buttigieg announced in December 2018 that he would not seek a third term. He jumped into the presidential race one month later. Year-end fund-raising figures his campaign announced on Wednesday reported a door-busting $24.7 million haul in the final quarter, and more than $76 million for the year.
“We started out as an exploratory committee with four people in a little office,” Mr. Buttigieg reminisced about his presidential start in the exit interview on Tuesday. “We had no money, not much of a mailing list even.’’
Mr. Buttigieg may have left office, but his mayoral tenure will hardly recede. Heading into Iowa and New Hampshire voting next month as a leading candidate, his record is drawing strafing fire from opponents who question his experience and results.
Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota said in November that a woman who was mayor of a city as small as South Bend would not have been taken seriously enough to make the debate stage. A Black Lives Matter group in South Bend has called a news conference for Saturday to highlight what it calls Mr. Buttigieg’s “tolerance for racism by police,” intending to keep alive an issue that has apparently dampened Mr. Buttigieg’s appeal to black voters nationally.
Mr. Buttigieg’s last official act was to attend the swearing-in of his successor, James Mueller, at the Century Center convention hall on the Saint Joseph River downtown. The former mayor entered with his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, and his mother, Jennifer Anne Montgomery, a former professor at the University of Notre Dame.
Mr. Mueller, a childhood friend who returned home from Washington to work as Mr. Buttigieg’s chief of staff, was his handpicked successor. Little known before he ran, he bested a Democratic primary field featuring nine candidates, then cruised into office in November. As the new mayor was introduced, Mr. Buttigieg’s husband placed a hand on the former mayor’s shoulder, who shot Mr. Mueller a broad smile.
“When I was growing up, success was synonymous with getting out,” Mr. Mueller said. “On behalf of our city, I thank my predecessor, Mayor Pete, for leading us through our comeback decade.”
Mr. Buttigieg did not speak formally. He planned to return to campaigning on Thursday with seven stops in New Hampshire through the week. In the exit interview he said his house on the river in South Bend was not for sale.