Seeking to become the first mayor to graduate directly to the White House, Buttigieg always appeared to be running for national attention and some intermediate position, given the hurdles that the mayor of South Bend would face winning a statewide race in deep-red Indiana. Yet his long-shot campaign captured the imagination of many and caused brief flickers of hope that he could actually go the distance.
Directed by Jesse Moss, “Mayor Pete” captures all of that, including Buttigieg’s status as gay man and his decision to openly discuss that, as he says, “without it swallowing who I was and what our campaign was about.”
Still, Buttigieg speaks in such perfect sound bites that it’s difficult even in these casual moments to penetrate those barriers. As a consequence, some of the most telling insights coming from his husband, Chasten Buttigieg — who recalls that “Nobody was out” when he was in high school — and campaign communications director Lis Smith, who peppers her dialogue with expletives as she bluntly lectures the candidate for being too clinical in answering questions that call for displays of passion or emotion.
For all that, some of the behind-the-curtain glimpses are fascinating, from a friendly exchange with Joe Biden, his current boss, as the two run across each other on the trail to the strategizing with staff, from messaging to debate prep.
“It’s not even a debate,” Buttigieg corrects them at one point. “It’s a media opportunity.”
The filmmakers also catch the group briefly (and comically) stranded in an elevator, dealing with a crisis involving a police shooting in South Bend and at the moment when Buttigieg accepts that his improbable pursuit of the Oval Office has reached its end.
“That’s how you end a presidential campaign,” he says, with a tilt toward the camera, before opting to endorse Biden.
Currently serving as Secretary of Transportation at the ripe old age of 39, Buttigieg clearly has plenty of runway ahead of him in terms of pursuing future political ambitions.
Depending on where that leads, “Mayor Pete” is perhaps most significant as a snapshot of a very specific moment, and potentially a road map for the journey to come.
“Mayor Pete” premieres Nov. 12 on Amazon.