WASHINGTON (AP) — President-elect Joe Biden is expected to pick former South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg to head the Transportation Department, according to three people familiar with the plans.
Buttigieg, one of Biden’s rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, was a breakout star of the primaries, sharing victory in the nation’s first caucus with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He suspended his campaign before Super Tuesday and endorsed Biden.
The three people confirmed the news to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they didn’t want to publicly preempt the president-elect’s announcement. The Transportation Department helps oversee the nation’s highway system, planes, trains and mass transit and is poised to play a key role early in the incoming administration.
Buttigieg is the former mayor of Indiana’s fourth largest city, holding the position from 2012 to 2020. He also served a seven-month deployment as an intelligence officer in Afghanistan. With his presidential campaign, he became the first openly gay man to become — however briefly — a leading presidential candidate. He has been married to his husband, Chasten, since 2018.
LGBTQ rights groups immediately spoke out in praise of Biden’s selection of Buttigieg.
“Pete’s nomination is a new milestone in a decades-long effort to ensure LGBTQ people are represented throughout our government – and its impact will reverberate well-beyond the department he will lead,” said Annise Parker, president and CEO of the LGBTQ Victory Institute. “It distances our nation from a troubled legacy of barring out LGBTQ people from government positions and moves us closer to the President-elect’s vision of a government that reflects America.”
The South Bend chapter of Black Lives Matter, however, denounced Buttigieg’s impending nomination. The group had made their displeasure of Buttigieg known during his presidential campaign, following the 2019 South Bend shooting of a Black man by a white police officer.
“We saw Black communities have their houses torn down by his administration,” BLM’s South Bend leader Jorden Giger said in a statement, referring to Buttigieg’s effort to tear down substandard housing. “We saw the machinery of his police turned against Black people.”
Biden has compared the 38-year-old Buttigieg to his late son, Beau.
“To me, it’s the highest compliment I can give any man or woman. And, like Beau, he has a backbone like a ramrod,” Biden said during the March event, as Buttigieg stood behind him, bowing his head. “I promise you, over your lifetime, you’re going to end up seeing a hell of a lot more of Pete than you are of me.”
Biden has pledged to spend billions making major infrastructure improvements and on retrofitting initiatives that can help the U.S. battle climate change. He also wants to immediately mandate mask-wearing on airplanes and public transportation systems to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Infrastructure spending can be a bipartisan issue, and President Donald Trump spent years promising to push a major bill through Congress that never materialized. Instead his administration moved to soften carbon emissions standards that Biden’s team will likely work to undo as part of the broader commitment to slowing global warming.
Despite having governed a city of barely 100,000, Buttigieg was credited with transforming traffic with his Smart Streets initiative, a three-year project to convert 8 miles (12.9 kilometers) of multilane thoroughfares into two-way routes that enhanced South Bend’s downtown. The project received awards for environmental protection.
Though on a far smaller scale than the nation’s transportation systems, the project, as well as Buttigieg’s initiative to convert the city’s sewers to a smart-flow system, demonstrate what supporters praised as Buttigieg’s next-generation infrastructure vision.
The once most frequently mentioned early pick to head the Transportation Department, President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff and ex-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, sparked strong pushback from top progressive activists. Emanuel, also a former congressman, helped oversee the Obama administration’s distribution of tens of billions of dollars in transportation spending as part of a massive stimulus bill approved following the financial crisis — but now seems unlikely to take any position in Biden’s administration.
His chances faded after progressives and civil rights leaders were very critical of Emanuel’s handling of the high-profile police shooting death of Laquan McDonald, a Black teenager killed by a white officer, during his time as Chicago’s mayor.