On Dec. 15, 2020, Pete Buttigieg was nominated to join Joe Biden’s Presidential Cabinet as the U.S. Secretary of Transportation. After Biden was inaugurated, Buttigieg was confirmed by the Senate to join the Cabinet and was sworn in in Febr. 3, 2021. He is the first openly gay person to be appointed to the Cabinet by any president.
As the Secretary of Transportation, Buttigieg will be the head of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). The DOT operates over several federal organizations such as the Federal Aviation, Transit, and Railroad Administrations. The Department is dedicated to maintaining a safe transportation system while operating over the U.S. air, land, and maritime transit systems and ensuring the safety of roads, highways, and American workers and businesses. As the head of DOT, Buttigieg will have access to a budget of over $60 billion and lead over 55,000 employees all around the U.S. Buttigieg hopes to bring his unique perspectives and experiences as a former Democratic presidential candidate and mayor of South Bend, Indiana to the table as Secretary of Transportation. He hopes to shift the priorities of the DOT to protect the climate and work to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and racial inequalities.
Pete Buttigieg was born in South Bend, Indiana on Jan. 19, 1982. He is the only child of Joseph and Jennifer Buttigieg, both former professors at the University of Notre Dame. He graduated valedictorian and attended Harvard University, where he started to get involved in politics. He served on Harvard Student Government and was also president of the Student Advisory Committee of the Harvard Institute of Politics. After graduating from Harvard in 2004, he became a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University.
Buttigieg is a Christian, which has greatly influenced his life. As a Democratic Christian, Buttigieg argues that Christianity is supposed to be all accepting. He claims that “the Republican Party likes to cloak itself in the language of religion” but that they falsely use religion and Christianity as a divisive method, which Buttigieg believes is “dangerous.” Buttigieg is currently married to Chasten Glezman, a former high school teacher and LGBTQ+ advocate. Being a Christian, Buttigieg has embraced his sexuality and has stated that marrying his husband has brought him closer to God. In a 2019 interview, Buttigieg also said that his Christianity has made him more progressive.
After he graduated from Oxford University, Buttigieg interned for several political campaigns, including John Kerry’s presidential bid in 2004. After this, he was inspired to join the Navy and enlisted in 2009 as a Navy Reserve officer. He didn’t serve until five years later in 2014, during his mayoral term, when he took a seven-month leave to serve in Afghanistan. During his seven-month tour, he was an Intelligence Officer for the Afghanistan Threat Finance Cell (ATFC), which was focused on disrupting the financial systems of terrorist networks.
Before Buttigieg served in the Navy, he returned to his hometown of South Bend, Indiana to run for mayor of the city; this has earned him the nickname “Mayor Pete.” He was elected in 2011 for his first term and was the youngest mayor in the U.S. to serve a city with over 100,000 residents. During his first term, he lowered the unemployment rate from over 10% to less than 4%. He also rapidly increased development in the city and increased affordable housing.
During his first term, Buttigieg garnered some controversy when his head police chief, Darryl Boykins, was caught illegally wiretapping other officer’s phones. Following Buttigieg’s request, Boykins resigned. However, he sued the city for racial discrimination due to his status as the first Black police officer in South Bend. During Buttigieg’s re-election campaign for mayor in 2015, he came out as gay; this made him the most executive elected LGBTQ+ official in Indiana. During his second term, he developed a long-term climate plan, decreased police brutality in South Bend, increased immigrant rights through an ID system, and developed the “Smart Street” urban transportation system. Under this system, one-way streets became two-way streets, walkways became more pedestrian-friendly, and transportation was made more environmentally friendly.
In April 2019, during Buttigieg’s second term as mayor, he announced he was running for president in the 2020 election. During his historic run, he was the first openly gay major Democratic presidential candidate. Buttigieg was also the youngest candidate in the 2020 election.
He ran as a progressive Democrat with the hope of abolishing the Electoral College, developing a strategy to combat climate change by rejoining the Paris Climate agreement and reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. He was also focused on public healthcare through “Medicare for those who want it” and gun control. Additionally, Buttigieg strongly advocated for legislation to combat LGBTQ+ discrimination, guarantee abortion rights, and uphold the rights of immigrants. Another main part of his campaign was the “Douglass Plan,” an initiative dedicated to ending system racism through structural reforms such as improved healthcare and voting rights for African Americans and criminal justice reform.
During his candidacy, the thought of an openly gay president was often disregarded, and he was thought of as a “long shot” candidate by many during the beginning of his campaign. Buttigieg, however, gained popularity among older Democratic voters. He won the Feb. 3r, 2020 Iowa Primary and placed second in the New Hampshire primaries on Feb. 11, 2020. After this, he placed fourth in the South Carolina primaries in late February. Buttigieg then dropped out of the election in March 2020 and endorsed Joe Biden.
As Secretary of Transportation, Pete Buttigieg hopes to address persistent social and racial issues in the U.S. through the lens of transportation. One main issue Buttigieg will focus on is furthering the Biden Administration’s mission of climate reform. He will be starting structural reform in the fuel economy to reduce emissions and shift focus onto electric vehicles as well as environmentally friendly infrastructure to achieve net-zero emissions. This would include the creation of millions of jobs in the clean energy sector.
Another goal of Buttigieg’s is ensuring racial equity in transportation. In the U.S, African Americans face the disproportionate effects of car pollution, direct effects of an inefficient transportation system, and a higher chance of using mass transit. Buttigieg wants to combat this through conversation with minority groups, large scale infrastructure changes, and systemic changes in the way transportation is approached in the U.S. He plans on achieving these goals through hiring minority workers, rebuilding transit infrastructure (streetscapes, walkways, roads) in the majority POC communities, and creating specialized programs under the DOT focused on racial equity.
Another main focus of Buttigieg is restoring trust in the American public transit system as well as the transportation sector as a whole, as a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This includes establishing COVID-19 restrictions for workers around the U.S and forming policies to protect transit workers who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
In a speech on Feb. 5, at the Union Station, days after he was sworn in, Buttigieg spoke about his broad goals for the position. “We must recognize the legacy of racial and economic inequality, often worsened by misguided or prejudiced decisions in transportation policy, and instead make sure transportation is an engine of opportunity for all,” Buttigieg told frontline transit and rail workers at the Station.