All the Criticisms Leveled at Pete Buttigieg by Progressives Ahead of Next Democratic Debate

Wall Street Pete, Mayor McKinsey, Mayo Pete.

These are just some of the insults that have been lobbed against 2020 Democratic hopeful Pete Buttigieg, the millennial mayor from South Bend, Indiana, and first openly gay man to run for president.

The small-town mayor initially enjoyed months of media praise after he launched his White House bid in April. The small-town mayor and military veteran was quickly hailed as the next Barack Obama because of his "hope and change" message to voters and flattering cover stories featured him in Time and New York Magazine. Buttigieg emerged as one of the most surprising frontrunners of the Democratic primary and is now consistently polling among the top five candidates in both national and state polls. A CNN/Des Moines Register poll from November, for example, showed Buttigieg rising to 25 percent support in the state, followed by Senator Elizabeth Warren with 16 percent and former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders tied for third with 15 percent.

The knives, however, have come out since Buttigieg's meteoric rise in Iowa ahead of the state's early voting caucuses as progressives try to halt his momentum by criticizing the mayor as too moderate to win the Democratic primary. They're pointing to Buttigieg's rocky record on race, his controversial relationship with Wall Street and the criticism he's faced from the LGBTQ community as being major problems for his 2020 campaign.

"The best candidate to beat a corrupt president is someone with clean hands," Adam Green, the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee told Newsweek.

Buttigieg may not be that candidate, Green said, because "spending his time with big money corporate donors really hurts Democratic electability against Trump because it takes the anti-corruption corporate accountability card off the table for 2020."

Tess Whittlesey, a spokesperson for the Buttigieg campaign, responded to the criticism with the following comment to Newsweek: "While the attacks from our competitors continue to escalate, Pete's vision for the future of the country continues to resonate with voters. His focus remains on defeating Donald Trump and uniting the country by offering bold solutions to the challenges our country faces."

Now that he is in the top tier of candidates, Buttigieg is likely to face more attacks during the upcoming Democratic primary debate on Thursday. Here are some of the issues to watch for:

His Work With McKinsey & Company:

Before he was elected mayor, Buttigieg spent nearly three years with the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company. The elite management firm has been under fire over its work with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Purdue Pharma and authoritarian governments such as China, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Because he signed a non-disclosure agreement, Buttigieg's work for the firm was a mystery until last week when amid growing public pressure, the presidential hopeful released a list of more than half a dozen clients he worked for between 2007 and 2010. The list includes several environmental nonprofits, like the Natural Resources Defense Council.

But it also listed clients that raised eyebrows on the left, such as Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. The insurance company enforced rate hikes and laid off hundreds of workers after retaining McKinsey, although Buttigieg had moved on from the job years before the layoffs occurred.

Still, many are calling on Buttigieg to release the entire list of clients he worked within his three years at the company. David Axelrod, the chief strategist for Obama's presidential campaigns, tweeted that Buttigieg is going to have to find a way out his non-disclosure agreement and "fully disclose the work" he did at McKinsey in order to appease progressives who have slammed the mayor for his lack of transparency on the issue.

When pressed by a voter in New Hampshire earlier this month about his involvement with the company, Buttigieg denounced the company as reflecting "what's wrong with corporate America."

His Record on Race:

Buttigieg has struggled to connect with African American voters throughout his campaign: A poll earlier this year showed he only had 2 percent of black voters' support. The mayor has since called outreach with minorities one of the "most important pieces of homework" for his campaign.

Buttigieg's opponents have connected his low-polling numbers among African Americans to his handling of several racially charged controversies as mayor of South Bend, Indiana. Buttigieg sparked outrage in 2011 when he demoted the city's first black police chief for allegedly taping police phone calls in an attempt to catch white officers using racist language. Then earlier this year, Buttigieg had to temporarily leave the campaign trail after a white South Bend police officer shot and killed black resident Eric Logan.

When asked during the very first Democratic presidential debate in June about his failure to bring greater diversity to South Bend's police force, Buttigieg admitted he "couldn't get it done."

Most recently, Buttigieg has faced criticism for a comment he made in 2011 about black students from poor neighborhoods struggling in school because they did not have proper role models. The comment, which resurfaced online, prompted writer Michael Harriet to pen a scathing essay in The Root titled "Pete Buttigieg is a Lying Motherf***er."

Fellow 2020 Democratic candidate Julián Castro slammed Buttigieg for his record on race in an interview with The Hill on Sunday. Castro, who failed to qualify for Thursday's debate, said Buttigieg has a "bad track record with African Americans on the issues" and that "it is risky to nominate somebody that cannot appeal to one of our most important constituencies."

pete buttigieg faces attacks from progressives
Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, photographed at The Washington Post on Friday, December 13, 2019, in Washington, D.C. Salwan Georges/The Washington Post via Getty Images

His Wall Street Fundraisers:

Last week, protesters in New York chanted "Wall Street Pete" outside of a fundraiser Buttigieg was attending at the home of tech investor Kevin Ryan, the latest attack on him for his ties to wealthy donors and for holding private fundraisers with Wall Street figures.

They won’t let us in but we’re pretty sure they can hear us! #WallStreetPete #MakeBillionairesPay

— New York Communities for Change (@nychange) December 11, 2019

Amid growing public pressure, especially from Warren, Buttigieg's campaign announced last week that it would begin allowing the press to attend fundraisers and that it would start identifying those who are working to raise donations for the mayor.

"In a continued commitment to transparency, we are announcing today that our campaign will open fundraisers to reporters, and will release the names of people raising money for our campaign," campaign manager Mike Schmuhl said in a statement to reporters last week.

Buttigieg pushed back against the criticism of his closeness to wealthy donors on the November primary debate stage, noting: "I'm literally the least wealthy person on this stage." He's also long argued that the anti-rich message promoted by Warren and Bernie Sanders is "not unifying."

His team noted that more than 700,000 Americans have donated to the campaign so far and that the average contribution in the last fundraising quarter was just $32.

His Criticism From the LGBTQ Community:

Buttigieg recently drew criticism after photos from 2017 of him volunteering with the Salvation Army, a religious organization with a history of opposing gay rights, resurfaced online earlier this month. Buttigieg addressed the controversy during an interview with ABC on December 6.

"Raising money to help poor people is something that I believe we can all be on board with as a worthy purpose. The Salvation Army does have some problematic history when it comes to recognition and support of LGBTQ equality. I've seen them take steps in the right direction, which is encouraging. I hope that at the end of the day we can focus on moving everything forward and not tear one another down," he said.

It's not the first time Buttigieg has drawn ire from the LGBTQ community. Earlier this year, the 2020 Democratic hopeful was slammed for quipping about making a "peace deal" between the LGBTQ community and Chick-fil-A. The fast-food chain had a long history of donating to anti-LGBTQ causes but announced in November it would stop contributing to organizations that don't support gay rights.

Buttigieg also faced criticism when he told Sirius XM that he didn't follow any LGBTQ media, claiming that he "can't even read the LGBTQ media anymore, because it's all, 'he's too gay,' 'not gay enough,' 'wrong kind of gay.'"

His comments quickly drew backlash, with many in the media industry noting that queer outlets have struggled to stay afloat in recent years. Others were quick to notice that the negative articles about Buttigieg were not coming from LGBTQ media sites but from other mainstream outlets like The New Republic and The Outline.

"When LGBTQ+ journalism is dwindling despite our rights being threatened at higher rates, why come for queer media?" Phillip Picardi, editor-in-chief of Out magazine, tweeted in response to Buttigieg's remarks.

Update (12/17/2019, 11:00 a.m. ET): This story has been updated to include comment from a spokesperson for the Buttigieg campaign.

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