By David-Elijah Nahmod
Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, made history when he became the first openly gay man to run for President of the United States. And though he didn’t win, Buttigieg attracted a great deal of attention during his campaign. That campaign has been preserved for posterity in Jesse Moss’ compelling new documentary, Mayor Pete. The film is now streaming at Amazon Prime.
The first question posed in the film is how do you pronounce Buttigieg’s last name? During a hilarious sequence a variety of people are seen mispronouncing the name, until TV host Trevor Noah poses the question.
“First things first,” Noah says. “A lot of people are asking, ‘How do you pronounce this guy’s name?’ It’s pronounced Pete.”
The line is a laugh-getter, but for the most part, Moss takes Mayor Pete seriously and treats his subject with the utmost respect.
One thing that’s made plain in the film is that Buttigieg has a great deal of charisma, a unique ability to make strangers like him. It’s hard to take your eyes off him when he’s on stage. He uses this attribute whenever he makes speeches and in other public appearances, and it gets him far. But he also has a great deal of humility, as he displays when taking part in a presidential debate.
“Because I couldn’t get it done,” he says matter of factly, when asked about some ongoing problems in South Bend that he was unable to resolve.
When he was still mayor of South Bend, a Black man was shot and killed by a white cop, and Buttigieg had to deal with the fallout. Moss shows Buttigieg facing the Black community, doing his level best to keep the peace and to appease his angry constituents. In New York City, he campaigns with noted civil rights activist Rev. Al Sharpton and reaches out to the Black community.
He does not shy away from questions about his sexuality and says that he doesn’t want to be the “gay president” or president to the gay community. Rather, he hopes to be president to all Americans.
Buttigieg’s husband Chasten took part in the film, and there’s a great deal of footage of them together. They make a lovely couple, and their love for each other is apparent. In one particularly sweet sequence, the Buttigiegs are sitting at a table. Pete is eating, while an exhausted Chasten has his head buried in his arms, which are on the table. As Pete eats, Chasten reaches out with his pinky. Pete touches Chasten’s pinky with his own, and the two sit there quietly. It’s a testament to how connected they are to each other, how deep their love is.
Most of the film focuses on Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. He’s seen on the campaign trail making speeches, shaking hands, being coached by his aides in the fine art of public speaking, and taking part in debates. It’s a fascinating bird’s eye view of how political campaigns are put together.
As we all know, Buttigieg did not become president. After a surprise victory in the Iowa Caucuses, his numbers plunged. Like the mature man he is, Buttigieg admitted defeat and ended his campaign. But the story has a happy ending: President Biden appointed Buttigieg to the post of Transportation Secretary, making him the first openly gay man to hold a cabinet position. Pete Buttigieg is still a viable presence in the world of American politics.
He remains a popular figure. Who knows, he may run for president again in the future. He could become the first openly gay president after all. We’ll have to wait and see.