The young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, now in his second term, explains what mayors do and offers ideas for the country as a whole.
Being a mayor, writes Buttigieg—“Budda-judge,” he writes of the phonetics, “was close enough and easier to remember than any other way we could think to write it down”—is a constant, grueling act of juggling constituencies while being sure they all have access so they can express their viewpoints and concerns. So it was in the matter of a seemingly small order of mayoral business: namely, renaming a South Bend street to honor Martin Luther King Jr. The city had one such street already, but it was less than a mile long and had no buildings along its route that bore its address. It would have been easy enough to act by fiat, writes the author, but opening the door to comment meant that every proposed renaming “met a new angle of resistance.” Enter lawyers, business owners, residents, and assorted other people before a downtown street, one of many bearing the name of a patron saint, was finally designated. It took four years, writes Buttigieg, “or twenty, depending on how you start the clock.” The process may have been painful, but in the end, it was successful and had a happy ending. Not so with every episode the author recounts. As he astutely notes, handling a mayorship and the challenges of reckoning with the “primacy of the everyday” can be like “changing channels every five minutes between The Wire, Parks and Recreation, and, occasionally, Veep.” Buttigieg’s memoir/policy manual has all the signs of a book meant to position a candidate nationally, and his easy movement among and membership in many constituencies (gay, military veteran, liberal, first-generation American, etc.) suggests an interesting political future.
For the moment, a valuable rejoinder to like-minded books by Daniel Kemmis, Mitch Landrieu, and other progressive city-scale CEOs.