Black Leader in South Bend Endorses Joe Biden Over Pete Buttigieg

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — An African-American official of South Bend, Ind., endorsed Joseph R. Biden Jr. for president on Friday, snubbing the city’s mayor, Pete Buttigieg, in a close-to-home example of Mr. Buttigieg’s struggle to attract black support.

The official, Oliver Davis, is a longtime Democratic member of the Common Council.

“In times like these, when the political winds are fiercely blowing across our country, it’s important for us to have an experienced leader who has been through the diverse storms of life to guide our country,” Mr. Davis said in an endorsement released by the Biden campaign.

Mr. Davis has been a frequent critic of Mr. Buttigieg since the mayor took office in 2012, seeking, for example, to tap the brakes on a signature initiative of the mayor’s to demolish or repair 1,000 run-down houses in 1,000 days. In 2016, he voted against the mayor’s effort to hire a diversity officer.

When a white officer from the South Bend Police Department fatally shot a black resident in June, setting off protests and anguished town hall events, the episode exposed deep distrust between the police and some members of South Bend’s minority community. Mr. Davis emerged as a sharp critic of the mayor’s management of the police in the national media.

Mr. Buttigieg, who has climbed in recent polls of Iowa and New Hampshire, is in danger of seeing his candidacy for the Democratic nomination hit a wall if he cannot win more support from black voters and black leaders.

Mr. Buttigieg, speaking to CNN on Friday, said he respected Mr. Davis but emphasized that black voters in his hometown were not monolithic.

“I am proud of some of the black supporters who know me best, from Indiana and from South Bend, who have not only supported our campaign, but traveled with us and helped tell the story of our community,” he said.

In an interview this week, Mr. Davis said that to him, Mr. Buttigieg and even Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker looked too risky to defeat President Trump next year. “We are at meat and potatoes time,” he said, praising Mr. Biden.

Mr. Davis, a social worker, expressed displeasure that Mr. Buttigieg got too much credit for South Bend’s revival, when the Common Council was a partner and some initiatives predated the mayor.

“We planted the seeds prior to him. He’s reaped the seeds,” he said of the mayor. “To me the exact story if you want to write it is: Pete did a real good job of harvesting.”

Mr. Davis ran this year to succeed Mr. Buttigieg, whose term ends in December. The councilman lost in a crowded primary to James Mueller, now mayor-elect, a former top Buttigieg aide who had the mayor’s financial and political backing.

In somewhat colorful language, Mr. Davis said his criticism of Mr. Buttigieg was not personal. “Does Oliver hate Pete? No. It’s an honor to have him run for president. People know our city now more than ever before,” he said.

“But when I saw his zipper down, I told him,” he added.

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