Sort of, counters Regina Williams-Preston, a city council member who’s running to succeed Buttigieg as mayor this year. (He announced in December that he wouldn’t run again, clearing that out of the way before beginning his presidential campaign.)
“I noticed our council agenda is a little lighter,” she said, adding that when Buttigieg gave his big campaign launch speech at the old Studebaker factory, she was receiving texts from constituents asking whether the city was paying for security. Williams-Preston said she also got texts asking if the candidate is still taking his mayoral salary of $104,000 per year. (He is.)
Nevertheless, Buttigieg’s run has been good PR for South Bend, and Williams-Preston, like others, seemed tickled to watch the national press descend on the city of 100,000. The almost certainly determinative Democratic mayoral primary is May 7 and, though everyone knows that Buttigieg is running for president, she said, so many locals are so disconnected from city government that “I don’t think they miss him in their daily lives.”
“His presence at times is needed,” said Karen White, an at-large member of the city council. She said she hasn’t seen one of those times go unanswered yet.
“A lot depends on what the next month or two will bring for him.”
While Buttigieg is a lame duck looking to make a smooth transition in South Bend, he also insists he’s not just going to hand off the government and be an absentee mayor for the last six months of his term. The city budget process is beginning, and he wants in, he says, in a very Buttigieg way, to make sure South Bend is as “systematic in the capital plan as we are in the operational funding plan.” The Indiana Republican Party has tagged him “Part Time Peter,” but Buttigieg says he’s heard no actual complaints from his colleagues or constituents.
“It’s 2019. There’s cell phones. There’s Facebook,” said Tricia Morton, a 56-year-old elementary school teacher who showed up to the Elks Club wearing a headband with a cartoon-style thought bubble that read “Pete for Prez.”
“If the city solely relied on Pete being here, we’re in big trouble,” said Tim Scott, who was elected the same year as Buttigieg and noted that he has a full-time job himself in addition to serving as council president. “It’s complicated, and a good problem to have.”
In 2016, Chris Christie was denigrated as an absentee governor as he chased the Republican nomination. After all, what was the governor of New Jersey even doing in Mexico? That misstep left an impression: when Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti was weighing his 2020 run, a number of people told him that he’d need to resign if he really wanted to make a serious bid, since he couldn’t travel the country and run a big, complicated city at the same time. Garcetti stressed over the choice, and, despite years of groundwork, stopped himself short of entering the race in January.