Pete Buttigieg Governed South Bend Like a Republican

by Benjamin Studebaker

Have you ever lived in a place with a Republican mayor? I have. My hometown has been governed by a Republican mayor since 2004. Republicans have a simple strategy for running cities–they try to attract as many high-income residents as possible. This means doing everything you can to make the town pretty. It means offering investors all sorts of incentives to come to town. If you live in a town run by a Republican mayor and you’re doing well, it seems like the town is getting a lot better. It gets prettier. They built parks. You read in the local paper about new business coming to town. It all sounds great, and Republican mayors often get re-elected by large margins.

But there’s a problem. These Republican mayors attract two kinds of jobs:

  1. A small number of high-end, high-income jobs. Most of these jobs don’t go to locals. Instead, new high-income residents move to the town, pushing up land values.
  2. A large number of low-end, low-income jobs, to provide these new residents with amenities (craft beer, fancy coffee, and all the rest). These are the jobs local people end up with.

Again, if you’re doing well, you don’t notice. The value of your home is rising, and you like that. The new breweries and coffee shops are cool. You already had a good job before the Republican mayor showed up. The only thing you’ll notice is that the city starts to get a little bit more crowded, and the traffic gets a bit more annoying. In my home town, our mayor responded to this by getting really into roundabouts. He built them everywhere. They’re pretty, and they make the traffic flow better once you figure out how to use them.

The people who get screwed are the little people. They end up in these really crummy service jobs, with no hope of advancement. The more rich people move to the pretty town, the more horrible service jobs there are. Pretty soon, you have a two-tier city, where some people buy the lattes and some people make the lattes.

It doesn’t have to be this way. A city can instead try to create good jobs and affordable housing situations for the people who already live there. It’s harder, but it can be done. When Bernie Sanders was mayor of Burlington, Vermont, he started the Champlain Housing Trust–the first of its kind–to ensure the poor and working people in the town would always have somewhere affordable to live. He sued the cable company and got everybody cheaper cable. He rejected a plan to redevelop waterfront property into condos, hotels, and offices. Instead, he made that land into parks and public space.

Pete Buttigieg may speak a lot of languages, but he wasn’t that creative. His big idea was to threaten low income residents with fines if they didn’t pretty up their homes. Those who couldn’t afford the residential plastic surgery had their homes seized and bulldozed. He brags about this. He calls it “1,000 homes in 1,000 days”. South Bend became better looking by paying a blood price. Of course, once the city looks better, Buttigieg can claim to have “revitalised” it, even though large numbers of residents remain mired in poverty. Those residents don’t have much of a voice in the town, and their lives and interests are swept under the rug. He was re-elected by a large margin, just like many Republican mayors. In his second term, he got really interested in traffic, just like the Republican mayor in my hometown. Calling it “Smart Streets”, he widened sidewalks, added some trees, threw in some bike lanes, and–of course–built some roundabouts.

Sanders housed more than a thousand people. Buttigieg bulldozed more than a thousand homes.

But hey, he speaks a lot of languages, and the media says he’s “very smart”.

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