CHICAGO (CN) – Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg made his case to black business leaders Tuesday at a civil rights event in Chicago, amid an uproar over the fatal shooting of a black man by a white police officer in the Indiana city where he is mayor.
Speaking at a convention for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s civil rights group Rainbow PUSH, Buttigieg addressed a recent road bump in his campaign – community outrage over a South Bend, Indiana, officer’s shooting of a black father of seven last month – with an audience no strangers themselves to racial tensions with local police.
“I accept responsibility for the work that’s left to be done,” Buttigieg, 37, said Tuesday after listing ways he had been addressing racial issues as mayor. “Whatever we’ve done has not been nearly enough.”
“We’re not the only city facing this challenge,” he continued. “This is a national concern. Police departments do not reflect the communities they serve.”
Rev. Jackson praised Buttigieg’s transparency in dealing with the situation in South Bend, highlighting the racial inequality there.
“White kids go to Notre Dame and black kids hardly finish high school,” Jackson said.
That inequality is something Buttigieg says he will tackle if elected president, calling his plan to address racial disparities in law enforcement, health care, housing, education and economic opportunity the “Douglass plan,” after 19th century civil rights pioneer Fredrick Douglass.
Calling each of those systems “burdened by racism,” Buttigieg added that “all of American life takes place in these shadows.”
“This is an American problem and it requires nationwide solutions,” the mayor said. “It is going to take intentional actions.”
Hinting at support for some form of reparations, Buttigieg added that “something that was stolen should be given back.”
“We need to hear this from any candidate running for office with the benefits and privilege of whiteness on their side,” he said.
Mayor Pete, as he is commonly referred to, said he is continually asked how he will get the black vote but is never asked what he will do for black people, emphasizing voting rights, reducing mass incarceration and providing more paths to education and entrepreneurship.
“Freedom is more than freedom from,” he said Tuesday. “It’s freedom to.”
Mayor of South Bend since 2012, Buttigieg would be the youngest president in history and the first to be openly gay, if elected.
Although he has impressive credentials – a stint as a navy reserve lieutenant in Afghanistan, as well as degrees from Harvard and Oxford – he lacks experience on the national political stage.
A vast majority (77%) of those surveyed in a CNN/SSRJ poll at the beginning of the year didn’t know who Buttigieg was.
But after what was widely seen as a strong performance at the first Democratic debates last week, his name recognition has jumped dramatically.
Buttigieg has broken into the top six most favorable candidates among registered voters, trailing only behind former Vice President Joe Biden and Senators Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker.
Adding to his rising tide, Buttigieg’s campaign announced Monday that it raised $24.8 million in the second fundraising quarter.
“There’s lots of voters that I need to get to know, and who need to get to know me,” Buttigieg said before Tuesday’s event.