WASHINGTON , -- Pete Buttigieg was talking to reporters about the impact of President Joe Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure package . He spoke out on the promise of more electric cars and intercity train routes. When a sharp question was asked.
What would his strategy be to build racial equity in infrastructure?
The former mayor of South Bend and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, 39, argued that highway design can reflect racism. He noted that the bill, which will include at least $1 billion, will help to reconnect communities and neighborhoods that have been racially divided or segregated by road projects.
He said, "I'm still amazed that some people were shocked when I pointed out the fact that if an highway was built to divide a White and Black neighborhood...that clearly reflects racism."
Racial equity is an area where Democratic priorities align with Buttigieg’s future. His inability to win over Black voters was one of his biggest failings as a White House candidate. His ability to navigate the situation as he heads into the 2022 midterms is likely to determine the fortunes of Biden and the Democratic Party, if he doesn't already have them.
Buttigieg's words were used by Republicans to try and exploit the issue.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis stated, "I heard some things, some strange stuff from the secretaryof transportation trying to make it about social issues." Ron DeSantis. "A road is a road to me." Ted Cruz, Texas senator, tweeted in sarcasm: "The roads have become racist." Roads must be eliminated.
Buttigieg did not engage and was soon on his way to the climate summit in Scotland. He stood there for nearly a dozen interviews while he promoted the provisions of Biden’s bill to build an electric vehicle charging station network. He also met with young climate activists, and took photos of former President Barack Obama.
He stated that he did not know the hurtful consequences of racism on roads.
Later, his department announced that it would provide additional discretionary assistance to assist as many as 20 U.S. municipalities in removing portions of interstates and redesigning rural main streets. This could be a help to places like Syracuse, New York where many people support a plan for tearing down sections and building a walkable grid. It could also be helpful to areas that are racially segregated in New Orleans and St. Paul.
As Biden is about to sign the infrastructure bill Monday, all eyes will be on "Mayor Pete" a newcomer whose promises of "generational changes" and a real-world approach to fixing potholes helped him rise to the top of early Democratic primary contests in 2020.
After abandoning the race, Buttigieg quickly endorsed Biden and now stands to be one of Washington's most powerful brokers, handling the largest cash infusion into the transportation sector since 1950's creation of interstate highways.
Jeff Davis, a senior fellow with the Eno Center for Transportation, stated that Buttigieg has the money and the freedom to choose how it is spent. This department was established in 1967.
All told, $120 billion of $550 billion in new transport spending would be made in the form competitive grants. These grants give Buttigieg complete control over how the money is spent.
Ray LaHood (an ex-Republican congressman from Illinois who is now transportation secretary under Obama) says that $48 billion was a lot of money. LaHood stated that major federal transportation investments have been stagnant since then, which has created a demand for Amtrak projects that can be quickly launched.
This is both a blessing and a challenge for Buttigieg , who announced in August that he would be becoming a father with Chasten. To care for the twins, he took paternity leave for several weeks and returned to his job in October after Republicans criticised him. He also had to manage his time caring for his son , who was hospitalized with a respiratory illness for three weeks.
He said that when someone welcomes a child into their home, and then takes leave to care for that child, it's not a vacation. "I don't intend to apologize."
Buttigieg and other Cabinet members will be presenting the plan to the country starting this week.
Buttigieg stated that "a lot of this sells themselves because communities never needed be persuaded their bridge needed fixing, their airport needed an upgrade, or their ports required investment." They've been trying for Washington to catch up.
Anthony Foxx, Obama's transportation secretary, said that a major challenge will be managing the large operational details of the department. Buttigieg has the support of veteran hands. Many new programs require clear guidelines for states and localities regarding what they can apply for and how money will be distributed. Foxx stated that they will manage multiple plans with high dollar amounts, which puts pressure on administrative staff.
Biden stated Friday that he would name an outsider to oversee the disbursement.
Foxx stated that once many programs have been in place for six to nine months, the magic happens when it comes to funding. Foxx explained that the announcements of grants for medium-sized projects could be accelerated into spring 2023, with the first awards for intercity rail, multibillion-dollar bridges and New York's Gateway Tunnel.
Buttigieg, as a mayor was well-equipped to handle calls for pothole repair and roads construction. Buttigieg enjoyed talking about a state-of the-art sewer system. This message will now be nationally distributed with much greater stakes.
Larry Grisalano was Buttigieg’s advertising consultant.
The White House staff affectionately refers to him as "Secretary Mayor Pete" and Biden has made a comparison between Buttigieg and his late son Beau. The White House celebrated Chasten’s birthday with cupcakes. After Buttigieg's speech at the White House this summer, Biden stated that "You are the best man."
Buttigieg is a man of ambition in a city that has a lot to offer. His potential to rise higher on the national stage could make him a target.
Nina Smith, Buttigieg’s former traveling campaign press secretary said that as Biden’s top lieutenant for the bill, Buttigieg has an opportunity to lead an effort "to eradicate past injustices." Buttigieg was never able win large numbers of Black voters during the 2020 campaign.
Smith, a Democratic political advisor, said that Smith is aware of this added responsibility and makes it a key part of his work.