South Bend official hits Buttigieg for lack of knowledge on school integration

A councilman-elect for South Bend, Ind., on Thursday criticized the city's current Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - The choice: Biden-Harris vs. Trump-Pence California Democrats back Yang after he expresses disappointment over initial DNC lineup Obamas, Clintons to headline Biden's nominating convention MORE (D) after the top Democratic presidential candidate said last weekend that he was initially "slow to realize" that schools in his county were not integrated.

“Him saying that, ‘Look, I didn’t know, I don’t know’ is not an excuse at this point,” Henry Davis Jr. said in reference to comments made by the presidential hopeful during a campaign stop in North Carolina.

“That makes it even worse because you are still saying that you’re not accountable,” he continued.

Davis Jr., who ran an unsuccessful mayoral bid against Buttigieg in 2015, added that the country needs “someone that’s accountable.”

Buttigieg's campaign responded to Davis Jr.'s comments by emphasizing that the South Bend school district is independent from the city and run by a separate entity per Indiana state law. He also noted that Buttigieg has proposed a policy that would require school districts to get federal approval for any boundary changes, and a $500 million fund to "incentivize state and community-led racial and economic school integration."

"The problem Pete identified  that it's not just about making sure schools within a district are diverse but about examining how school districts are drawn  is something he has made addressing part of his presidential platform," Sean Savett, a communications director for Buttigieg's campaign, said in a statement. 

Buttigieg’s treatment of minorities and communities of color came under renewed scrutiny last Sunday. During the North Carolina campaign stop, Buttigieg said that he had wrongly assumed in the past that desegregation had been successful in his city's schools.

“I have to confess that I was slow to realize ― I worked for years under the illusion that our schools in my city were integrated because they had to be because of a court order,” Buttigieg told Rev. William Barber III, a prominent civil rights activist.

Buttigieg said there was integration “within the limits of the South Bend community school district as they were drawn," but added that "if you looked at the county, almost all of the diversity of our youths was in a single school district.”

Those comments come as Buttigieg looks to make inroads with black voters, which is considered a key voting bloc within the Democratic Party. Buttigieg has previously faced criticism for his handling of racially-charged incidents within the South Bend police department, and for policies that some critics say have been harmful to racial minorities in the city.

Buttigieg on Tuesday released a plan to close disparities in access to health care among minorities. The plan aims to create a task force to make health equity “part of all federal agencies’ missions," and invest in underserved areas to address their "most pressing" health needs. 

His campaign has also purchased a $2 million ad campaign targeting black voters in South Carolina. 

"The hope of an American experience defined not by exclusion but by belonging,” Buttigieg says in the ad. 

In South Carolina, where black voters make up roughly two-thirds of the Democratic primary electorate, Buttigieg is still polling in the single digits at 6.5 percent support, according to the RealClearPolitics average of polls. 

— Tess Bonn