Love him or dislike him, United States Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg continues to be in the news.
In addition to the recent birth of his and husband Chasten’s twins, he has also been the subject of ire from, unsurprisingly, Fox News’ tuckered out Tucker Carlson.
Fear not, Buttigieg is well-equipped to handle cranky Carlson’s crusty complaints, after all he served in the United States Navy and was mayor of South Bend, Indiana. He’s also the subject of filmmaker Jesse Moss’ documentary “Mayor Pete” (Amazon Studios).
Beginning, predictably, with the pronunciation of Pete’s surname, and the mangling it received from various late-night TV hosts and pundits, “Mayor Pete” is essentially the story of the unexpected meteoric rise and the ongoing ascent of the openly gay hometown boy who went to Harvard, became a Rhodes scholar, and returned to South Bend, Indiana, the city where he grew up. As mayor of South Bend, he faced challenges, but the rewards came when he helped in the city’s revival. But could he possibly go from the mayor’s office to the White House?
He made history as an openly gay POTUS candidate, and he did win the 2020 Iowa caucus. He dropped out of the race following defeat in the South Carolina primary. Moss’ “Mayor Pete” takes viewers on Buttigieg’s journey, including being named Secretary of Transportation by President Joe Biden.
In between, we are shown various aspects of Buttigieg’s personality. The scenes with Pete and Chasten are especially revealing. Chasten, who is onscreen almost as much as Pete, conducts personal interviews with his husband that alternate between feeling honest and rehearsed. Chasten’s sense of humor (he performed improv when he lived in Chicago) shines through (the backstage moment during the SC primary where they learn about the vegan in the cow suit in the audience, is one example), along with his more serious side. A good example of this is when they discuss putting aside their plans to start a family so that Pete could run for president.
The emotionally guarded Pete is well-spoken, sometimes to his detriment as we see in his scenes with senior communications director Lis Smith, who takes him down on more than occasion, dropping F-bombs and urging him to show more life and conviction. Perhaps the most revealing aspect of the doc, aside from a troublemaking Trumper at a campaign stop, is that Buttigieg’s supporters appeared to be indifferent to his sexuality.
While he stood out from his competitors as a “Maltese, left-handed, episcopalian, gay, war veteran and mayor,” his values and message of belonging as someone perceived as an “other” resonated with a segment of the population. As we watch him become increasingly confident on the debate stage, we are reminded of another takeaway from “Mayor Pete.” Even if he never gets elected POTUS in his lifetime, Pete Buttigieg created a reliable road map for others.
Gregg Shapiro is the author of seven books including the expanded edition of his short story collection How to Whistle (Rattling Good Yarns Press, 2021). An entertainment journalist, whose interviews and reviews run in a variety of regional LGBTQ+ and mainstream publications and websites, Shapiro lives in Fort Lauderdale with his husband Rick and their dog Coco.