In 2016, the New York Times asked whether Pete Buttigieg might just be “the first gay president,” saying the mayor of South Bend, Indiana was such a perfect Democratic candidate he may as well have been concocted in a laboratory.
On Monday, that moniker appeared to enter the realm of possibility, as 2020 speculation fueled headlines after Buttigieg announced on Twitter that he would not seek another term as mayor.
At a press conference Monday, Buttigieg admitted the 2020 rumors might be accurate: “I don’t think it’s a secret,” he said.
“I won’t be making any news about any other political activity on my end before the end of this year,” Buttigieg also said at the press conference, noting that he plans to see his mayoral duties through until the end of his term in late 2019.
But while he didn’t refer to a specific run for a specific office, Buttigieg did hint repeatedly towards something, at one point saying with a smile, “sometimes you are a candidate and an office holder.”
Buttigieg’s political press coordinator Lis Smith told INTO there are no announcements regarding 2020 at this time: “Today was just about the mayoral race,” said Smith. The fact that Smith is working with Buttigieg is notable in itself; Smith is a campaign veteran who worked as Obama’s director of rapid response, as deputy campaign manager for Martin O’Malley’s presidential bid, and as New York mayor Bill DeBlasio’s campaign spokesperson.
In an email to INTO on Monday, the LGBTQ Victory Fund’s Senior Political Director Sean Meloy sung Buttigieg’s praises and his “national profile.”
“President Obama was right to call Pete Buttigieg one of the most ‘gifted’ politicians in the Democratic Party,” Meloy told INTO. “South Bend was once regarded as a dying city; thanks to Mayor Pete’s leadership, South Bend’s population has increased and downtown South Bend has been revitalized. When he came out in 2015, Mayor Pete became one of the most visible openly LGBTQ leaders in the Midwest and quickly established a national profile because of his record of accomplishment. We’re excited to see what the future has in store.”
Buttigieg was already in office as mayor when he came out as gay in a June 2015 op-ed for the South Bend Tribune.
“I was well into adulthood before I was prepared to acknowledge the simple fact that I am gay,” wrote Buttigieg in the op-ed. “It took years of struggle and growth for me to recognize that it’s just a fact of life, like having brown hair, and part of who I am.”
At the time, Buttigieg wrote, “We Midwesterners are instinctively private,” but continued that he thought it was important to come out in order to make the world a little easier for LGBTQ youth. He also said coming out as gay seemed important given the historic same-sex marriage case (Obergefell) that was poised to transform equal rights for gay Americans that same month.
If legalizing same-sex marriage transformed LGBTQ equality, the 2018 midterm elections transformed LGBTQ political prospects. More openly LGBTQ candidates ran than ever before in history — and more won than ever before, too, with groundbreaking midterm election victories at every level of government, from Jared Polis becoming the first gay man elected governor of a U.S. state to transgender women like Gerri Cannon and Lisa Bunker winning statehouse representation.
It may just mean America is ready for its first gay president. And in 2020, that could be Pete Buttigieg.