Pete Buttigieg, the 34-year-old mayor of South Bend seen as a rising Democratic Party star, announced Thursday that he would join the race for Democratic National Committee chairman.
“It's time for new leadership to deliver a fresh start for our party,” Buttigieg said in a statement accompanied by a biographical video. “The solutions we need to rebuild our Party won't originate in Washington — they will begin in our communities across America’s states and territories.”
Buttigieg, who would be the youngest and the first openly gay leader of the DNC, was elected mayor at age 29 and attracted an unusual amount of fanfare. A Rhodes scholar, management consultant, and Iraq War protester-turned-Afghanistan War veteran, he presided over a story of economic growth that plenty of media trekked to South Bend to tell.
As of last month, Buttigieg was floated as a candidate for the DNC job, but seemed to have talked himself out of running. In a “letter from flyover country,” published on Medium, he told Democrats to look away from Washington for new ideas.
“I ran and won, twice, by telling my blue-collar community that Studebaker was never going to come back and make cars in our city, and that it was all right, because there is a way forward,” he wrote. “I am not a candidate for a position in the national party, but I am watching closely to see if any of the declared candidates will articulate this message.”
In a short interview Thursday, Buttigieg said that he'd had a “gut check” after “doing some listening” about the party's future. “It’s not a job I think anybody would want just to have it,” he said. “It’s something you think you should do if you uniquely bring something to the table. I'm bringing the perspective of a local official, and I don't think most people follow the Washington process as much as people follow what happens in their own communities.”
Buttigieg's decision brings the DNC's field to six candidates, none of whom is seen as having a clear majority of the 437 members who will pick a chair next month. The perceived front-runners, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), both welcomed the mayor to the race.
“The party has ignored local leaders for some time, and that is why I have spent the last few weeks listening and learning from folks on the ground in order to build a grassroots effort to last,” Perez said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing this conversation alongside Mayor Buttigieg and our fellow candidates in the days and weeks to come.”
“We need more young and energetic elected officials in our party,” Ellison said in a statement. “Pete showed tremendous courage during his re-election campaign when he came out — no easy thing to do in a red-state like Indiana in the middle of an election. I look forward to discussing the future of our party with him in this race.”
The three other candidates in the field are all serving roles in state parties. New Hampshire's Ray Buckley is coming off eight years running the party there; South Carolina's Jaime Harrison and Idaho's Sally Boynton Brown are their party's chairman and executive director, respectively. Of the three, only Harrison has worked in Washington.