Insurgent Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, visited Harlem on Monday to discuss issues facing black Americans and spoke also about being another type of “other”: an openly gay man.
“I don’t believe it makes me any better or worse at my job,” Buttigieg told reporters. “I do believe that anybody who has had some experience of being viewed as ‘an other’ might be able to draw on that experience to help them make sure that they tackle other patterns of exclusion.”
Buttigieg, 37, dined with the Rev. Al Sharpton at soul food restaurant Sylvia’s, long a favorite gathering place for New York’s political figures.
The mayor has surged recently in national polls. He has moved from being virtually unknown to competing with Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) for third place — albeit a distant third — behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.).
Buttigieg, a Navy veteran who served in Afghanistan, a Harvard University graduate and a Rhodes scholar, was cheered on by fans outside the lunch, some shouting, “Welcome to Harlem!”
Sharpton said he and Buttigieg talked "frankly" about Buttigieg’s leadership of South Bend. Buttigieg has faced scrutiny over his 2012 dismissal of South Bend’s first black police chief, who was alleged to have taped the phone calls of white officers believed to have used racist language. According to The New York Times, Buttigieg said then that he had lost faith in the chief upon learning that the FBI was investigating the secret taping of calls.
Buttigieg said he and Sharpton, a civil rights leader and former Democratic presidential candidate himself, spoke about the mayor’s agenda for closing the racial economic gap by focusing “on home ownership, entrepreneurship, health, education and criminal justice reform — in the context of making sure our democracy is accessible to everyone.”
Buttigieg is to return next week to the early-primary state of South Carolina, where black voters make up the majority of the Democratic primary electorate.
Jonathan Smith, 54, Washington Heights, who wore a T-shirt that read “Pete 2020," stopped by Sylvia's to show his support.
“We need to turn a page, we need to turn a chapter, we need a new book,” Smith said. “And I think he represents that possibility to just forget the infighting and partisan bickering … Let’s move forward in a new direction.”