President-elect Joe Biden has chosen Pete Buttigieg as his Transportation secretary, according to the transition team.
The pick sets the 38-year-old Hoosier Democrat on a path to become the first openly gay Cabinet official in the nation’s history, and makes him Biden’s first LGBTQ candidate for an administration position.
The two-term former mayor of South Bend rose to national prominence as a dark horse Democratic presidential candidate earlier this year.
Biden is set to announce Buttigieg’s nomination—his 15th Cabinet pick—tomorrow at an event in Wilmington, Delaware. CNN first reported on Sunday that Buttigieg had emerged as a finalist for the position, along with former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo. His selection ends a spate of high-profile speculation over what position, if any, Buttigieg would take, ranging from ambassador to China and the United Nations, as well as a possible secretary of Veterans Affairs or the Department of Commerce.
“Mayor Pete Buttigieg is a patriot and a problem-solver who speaks to the best of who we are as a nation. I am nominating him for Secretary of Transportation because this position stands at the nexus of so many of the interlocking challenges and opportunities ahead of us. Jobs, infrastructure, equity, and climate all come together at the DOT, the site of some of our most ambitious plans to build back better,” said President-elect Biden in a statement. “I trust Mayor Pete to lead this work with focus, decency, and a bold vision — he will bring people together to get big things done.”
Vice President-elect Kamala Harris said “One of the most important parts of building America back better is ushering in a safe, modern, and sustainable transportation system that helps us grow our economy, tackle our climate crisis, and connect all Americans to jobs and opportunity. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is an outstanding choice to help spearhead this work. An innovative problem solver and trailblazing public servant, Mayor Pete is deeply committed to bringing people together and upgrading our transportation system in a way that serves Americans of all backgrounds and communities of every size—urban and rural—across our country.”
LGBTQ allies hailed Buttigieg’s selection.
“Pete’s nomination is a new milestone in a decades-long effort to ensure LGBTQ people are represented throughout our government – and its impact will reverberate well-beyond the department he will lead,” Annise Parker, head of the LGBTQ Victory Institute, said in a statement. Parker said the appointment would fulfill one of the goals her group has for the new administration.
If confirmed by the Senate, Buttigieg’s nomination elevates the former mayor of Indiana’s fourth-largest city to the federal government as the nation’s 19th Transportation secretary. The position, established in 1966 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, oversees national transportation policy, along with 11 federal departments, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.
Biden developed an affection for Buttigieg, whom he has said reminds him of his late son Beau, and made it a priority to find a post for the Hoosier, who is unlikely to win a statewide election in barn-red Indiana anytime soon. Biden considers Buttigieg a bridge to the next generation of Democratic leaders, and is tasking him with a similar role he himself played for Obama, overseeing the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. It’s a role Biden sees as central to his Build Back Better agenda.
At the transportation department, Buttigieg, who turns 39 the day before the Inauguration, would be at the center of implementing Biden’s Build Back Better agenda, which calls for $2 trillion in infrastructure improvements. He would play a pivotal role in helping shape and pass an infrastructure bill, an unfinished legislative priority—and obstacle—for the Obama and Trump administrations.
Elected mayor at 29, Buttigieg, a policy wonk by nature, ushered in a series of transportation-related reforms in his hometown of South Bend, including overhauling the city’s street grid with the adoption of Smart Streets, streetscapes designed for easy and safe use by pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transit riders. In addition to making downtown South Bend easier to navigate, adding street parking and dedicated bike lanes, Buttigieg also installed roundabouts across the city—reforms that sparked controversy during his 2015 re-election campaign, but later spurred $90 million in area investments. Buttigieg also made it a priority to reroute South Bend’s rail service to downtown, as opposed to the South Bend International Airport.
In 2016, Buttigieg visited the Department of Transportation for the Safer People, Safer Streets Summit, where he received an award for the city’s work on Smart Street adoption. South Bend won in the small city category for Complete Streets, and also won the Overall Success award, alongside New York City and Washington, D.C. “We are transforming South Bend’s streets to meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists as well as drivers,” Buttigieg said in a statement at the time. “Our city is already seeing the benefits of safer streets, more vibrant public spaces, and a stronger economy thanks to better design and more complete streetscapes.”
Buttigieg, an Oxford-educated Rhodes Scholar, became the first openly gay person to win a state caucus or primary in American history, finishing first in the Iowa Caucuses. Buttigieg served as an intelligence officer in the United States Navy Reserve, eventually becoming a lieutenant and deploying to Afghanistan in 2014.