I like to ask people how they discovered Pete Buttigieg. The 37-year-old presidential candidate is quickly rising from long shot to top tier status after a series of well received media appearances in recent months. I was sold eight minutes into his January 31 debut on The View.
He connected with co-host Meghan McCain on the deaths of their fathers — one a Republican military hero, the other a Democrat immigrant professor — and replaced political division with empathy. Buttigieg modeled what all Americans should try: See what we have in common so we can start working toward a future that benefits everyone.
I was impressed enough to make a small campaign donation.
I’m a gay man who grew up in a conservative part of the Midwest. I first noticed Buttigieg in 2015, when he came out as gay while seeking a second term as the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. I thought it was a bold move in a red state, considering the governor at the time — Mike Pence — had just signed a state law that would have allowed businesses to discriminate against LGBT people.
Buttigieg’s coming out letter offered a rational counter point to Pence’s anti-LGBT stand.
“Being gay makes me no better or worse at handling a spreadsheet, a rifle, a committee meeting, or a hiring decision,” said Buttigieg, an Afghanistan war veteran who previously worked for the business consulting firm McKinsey. “It doesn’t change how residents can best judge my effectiveness in serving our city: by the progress of our neighborhoods, our economy, and our city services.”
Buttigieg was re-elected with 80 percent of the vote.
Yet there was sadness in his letter. Buttigieg said he waited “well into adulthood” to deal with being gay and wanted to get married “one day.” There was no one in his life to write about.
“While serving in Afghanistan, I realized I could die in my thirties, as the sitting mayor of a sizable city, with no clue what it’s like to be in love,” Buttigieg said during a visit to San Francisco.
Finding love and a First Man
Last year, Buttigieg married Chasten Glezman. They met on a dating app soon after Buttigieg came out.
“Chasten is awesome,” said Swati Mylavarapu, one of Buttigieg’s close friends for nearly 20 years.
I was lucky to sit next to Chasten Buttigieg at a small dinner party at Mylavarapu’s San Francisco home in February. We bonded over both being from Michigan and knowing where pasties, Vernors and cream cheese mashed potatoes fit in the state’s food groups.
Chasten is funny. He is a junior high school teacher who also does improv comedy. Ask him how to pronounce Buttigieg and his only advice is “just say it quickly.”
He came up with “Buddha-Judge” while the campaign officially promotes “Boot-Edge-Edge.”
The extent of Chasten’s wit becomes more apparent after following his Twitter and Instagram accounts. He manages to make his posts simultaneously entertaining and poignant.
At 29, Chasten is younger than his husband. But he has more life experience as an openly gay man. He came out at 18 without the aid of a newspaper op-ed and flood of supporters. He stayed with friends — and at times in his car — when he felt his religiously conservative family wouldn’t accept him. Chasten has been in more relationships. His street smarts (which also include a master’s degree in education) balance his husband’s book-heavy intelligence.
If Pete Buttigieg can pick a running mate as well as a husband, America will be in good hands.
Old friends and new ideas
The same can be said of his choice in friends. Buttigieg met Mylavarapu at Harvard and they also studied together at Oxford as Rhodes Scholars. Mylavarapu is one of the few women of color to reach the pinnacle of Silicon Valley success. She built the international business efforts at Square and was a partner at the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins.
She also helped create a non-profit called the Arena, which finds and trains the next generation of progressive political candidates. She runs Incite Ventures with her husband Matt Rogers, the co-founder of Nest. Incite invests in tech startups and movements that seek to be catalysts of change by addressing social and environmental issues.
Together, Buttigieg and Mylavarapu are using the levers of business, politics and public policy to build his campaign and make change. Buttigieg helped Mylavarapu launch the Arena and she made the trip to Indiana multiple times to offer her expertise in South Bend’s turnaround.
“One winter he convinced me and the mayor of Los Angeles to join him in the snow,” Mylavarapu said. “This is quintessential Pete. He sees a way to use the platform that he has to drive meaningful change, to get things done for his community, and to make it broadly relevant and scalable.”
Buttigieg is credited with revitalizing a Rust Belt city that faced economic insecurity. Now, a long-shuttered South Bend auto plant turned into a startup incubator symbolizes what every Midwestern town desires.
At Mylavarapu’s dinner party, Buttigieg talked about his goals: championing democratic capitalism to fuel equitable growth within the rule of law, gradual implementation of a single-payer health care system that first uses “all-payer” rate settings without eliminating private insurance, addressing climate change, abolishing the Electoral College.
“Pete has this remarkable ability to process very complex information and ideas, develop an informed position and then filter that message into a direct and relatable point of view that moves people,” Mylavarapu said.“That’s what makes great leaders and that’s why Pete should be president.”
Joel Engardio lives west of Twin Peaks in District 7. He is a guest opinion columnist and his point of view is not necessarily that of The Examiner. Follow his blog at www.engardio.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org