In Pete’s Words: Serving as South Bend mayor has been ‘the privilege of a lifetime’

by Pete Buttigieg – Dec 28, 2019 (

As my eighth and final year as mayor of South Bend comes to an end, it is extraordinary to reflect on how much has changed. At the beginning of this decade, hit hard by the Great Recession, our city was fighting off national media calling us a “dying city.” A quarter of our peak population was gone, and our economy’s struggles loomed over us in the form of empty factories and collapsing, vacant houses.

Today, after eight years of collaboration between residents, city government, and local partners, South Bend’s trajectory has been transformed. Our population is growing, while our unemployment rate has fallen drastically. We are no longer called a dying city, but a “beta city,” a national model for innovation.

South Bend’s transformation was fueled by our residents. Neighborhood development was a priority throughout, from community-inspired efforts to address vacant houses to the expansion of funds for home repairs, lead abatement, and curbs and sidewalks.

Unemployment fell from 11.8 percent to 3.9 percent as our population ticked northward. City business partnerships led to $900 million in private investment and over 7,500 new jobs. Our downtown, once dominated by one-way highways that fast-tracked drivers out of our core, now boasts complete streets that welcome residents and visitors to enjoy a bustling urban center.

With the biggest investment in homelessness resources since the 1980s, we have driven veteran homelessness to near zero, delivered additional winter weather shelters through local service providers, and expanded permanent supportive housing.

Recognizing that racial and income inequality would not improve without intentional action, we established the first Office of Diversity & Inclusion, and commissioned two landmark studies, the Racial Wealth Divide profile and the Disparity Study, to identify opportunity gaps and anchor our strategies for a more inclusive economic future.

We opened three new fire stations and the Luther J. Taylor Fire Training Center, which trains departments from across our region. Our police department standardized its promotion process and updated department policies and procedures in a new duty manual. Patrol officers are now equipped with body-worn cameras, and the department adopted better training at every level of service. At the close of this year, community members and national experts are engaging with the department to strengthen their practices further.

The Department of Public Works pioneered innovative technologies that facilitate user-friendly, cost-effective, and environmentally sound improvements in everything from sewer management to leaf and trash pickup. Understanding that reactive measures will not be enough to counter the danger presented by climate change, we released the South Bend Climate Action Plan, a bold strategy that upholds the Paris Agreement goal of 26 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2025 and carbon neutrality by 2050.

We reinvented Venues Parks & Arts, whose conviction that every resident deserves access to high-quality public spaces has led to its recognition as a national leader in parks and facilities management. The results of the My SB Parks & Trails plan, the largest investment in public spaces in South Bend’s history, will be felt for generations. Meanwhile, the city set new standards for fiscal management, civic technology, and transparency.

Like every mayor, I am proud of what we have accomplished but also leave office mindful of the work that remains to be done in our community. We must continue to strengthen the relationship between the police department and the neighborhoods it serves. We must continue to add permanent supportive housing units across South Bend, providing a long-term solution for residents experiencing homelessness. And only through fully inclusive economic development can South Bend reach its full potential.

South Bend’s resurgence was only possible through partnerships with our schools and colleges, business leaders, faith leaders, social services, activists, neighborhood stakeholders and others. Our city employees executed a bold vision for a better South Bend, guided along the way by the members of the Common Council.

Time and time again, South Bend gave me a greater sense of belonging than I thought possible. This city welcomed me when I found my way back as a young man, trusted me when I asked for a chance to serve as mayor, sustained me when I left this community I love to serve our country half a world away, and supported me when I took the risk of sharing my most personal truths.

Our story is forever unfinished. But at this moment of transition for our hometown, disruption for our country, and transformation in my personal story, the one thing I know for certain is the truth of the words I had the great privilege to say to thousands of fellow residents the day we marked our 150th year as a city: “South Bend is back.”

I am grateful to the people of South Bend for giving me the opportunity to serve our hometown. It has been the privilege of a lifetime, and as I prepare for a new chapter in life, this will always be home and I will always believe in South Bend.

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