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South Bend Residents React to Buttigieg's Debate Performance

Vernado Malone streams the Democratic national debate on his phone at a watch party he organized for several South Bend activists.

Vernado Malone streams the Democratic national debate on his phone at a watch party he organized for several South Bend activists. (Justin Hicks/IPB News)

Thursday night, residents of South Bend gathered to watch their mayor on a national stage in the first Democratic presidential debate. The question on everyone’s mind: if and how Pete Buttigieg would address the police shooting of Eric Logan.

In the basement of an upscale apartment building in downtown South Bend, Pete Buttigieg supporters were spooning out dip and microwaving food in preparation for a watch party. They even had cookies stamped with the campaign’s official “Pete” logo. 

Josh Mandell organized the watch party. He says he hopes Mayor Pete could use the debate to increase his name recognition around the country. 

“I’m just looking for Pete to shine," Mandell says. "You know he’s still fourth, fifth, third, depending on which poll you look at so I’m looking for him to make a strong showing.”

But Mandell also knew that Pete would get tough questions about the police shooting of Eric Logan almost two weeks before.  

“Pete’s just going to have to go on record about all the things he’s done with inclusion in South Bend and trying to diversify the police force and things like that," he says.

Meanwhile, across town at the West Side Democratic Club, the inevitable question was also on Emily Dean’s mind, too. 

"It is so hard to have a local discussion on a national stage like that," Dean says. "I think it's really, really difficult for him to address the intricacies of city governance and politics and what is and isn't possible for a mayor on a national stage in a 30-second sound byte."

The first hour of the debate addressed issues on healthcare, the economy, and education. And then at the top of the second hour, the pivotal question for South Bend came from Rachel Maddow. 

"The police force in South Bend is now 6 percent black in a city that is 26 percent black," Maddow said. "Why has that not improved over your two terms as mayor?"

Buttigieg’s response was simple.

“Because I couldn’t get it done,” he said.

At a small watch party with some of Buttigieg’s most vocal critics, Tiana Batiste-Waddell listened closely as he addressed the Eric Logan shooting head on. But she says the incident with Logan is just one part of a larger conflict between the police department and the black community.  

“None of the other racial things that have happened have been addressed," she says. "They keep getting pushed under the rug. ”  

After the debate, a handful of students at Indiana University’s satellite campus in South Bend debriefed on bean bag chairs in a residence hall. Kacey Jackson says Buttigieg gave the best answer he could’ve, but his actions in the next weeks and months will speak louder than his words. 

“What next?" she says. "What is actually going to happen? Later in the debate he argued that he did so many things and we did so many things, but that doesn’t matter if there’s no change.”

And for many residents of South Bend, answering that question off the debate stage may be the thing that determines their vote in 2020. 

Want to contact your legislators about an issue that matters to you? Find out how to contact your senators and member of Congress here.

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