In an exclusive interview for NBC 6 Impact with Jackie Nespral, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said he's prepared to be part of the political change necessary to usher in a "wonderful era ahead in American life."
Buttigieg, a key contender among the over two-dozen candidates in the Democratic primary, believes such political change can be sourced from a generational shift. He sees leadership promise in his contemporaries.
"I believe that there is leadership emerging from people my age, not only from people my age, but from people my age who are being supported by people our parents' and grandparents' age, taking the reins on issues from calling America to account morally for our failure to deal with gun violence, to celebrating the fact that ours is the most diverse generation in American history," Buttigieg told Nespral. "This could be the makings of a wonderful era ahead in American life, but only if we have political change."
Buttigieg, 37, sat down to share his thoughts on numerous issues with NBC 6 before standing beside other Democratic contenders in debate this week.
Buttigieg became a well-known name in the political atmosphere after he issued identification cards to some undocumented immigrants in his Indiana constituency.
Those undocumented immigrants were just a part of the city of South Bend as U.S. citizens, yet they were excluded from many aspects of day-to-day life, according to Buttigieg.
"They were shut out from a lot of things. Simple, everyday things that some of us take for granted because they did not have an ID," Buttigieg said. "And what we realized, was if the state policies and the federal policies were not supportive, we could just have this locally. We could create a community ID."
That community ID was a minimal cost for the city that not only made the community safer but also improved lives, Buttigieg said.
Comprehensive immigration reform is a priority for Buttigieg, he said. Addressing other issues that affect Americans including gun safety, raising wages, paid family leave and protecting healthcare is paramount, he said.
Buttigieg wants to focus to get things done. To do so, Buttigieg said Democrats need to limit addressing President Donald Trump unless necessary.
"Now obviously when he lies, we need to confront that with the truth. When he does something wrong we need to oppose it," Buttigieg added. "But, I think at the end of the day, people need to know not just what we're against, but what we're for."
The majority of Americans agree with much of what the Democratic Party wants to accomplish, Buttigieg said. He thinks Democrats will bring forward the reforms wanted and needed by the American people.
"I believe the more we're talking about how policies will affect everyday life in America, the more we're winning, and we can't play his game," Buttigieg added.
Buttigieg is a combat veteran whose election as mayor of South Bend at 29 years old made him the youngest to lead a large or mid-size U.S. city. His announcement video focused on urban redevelopment and the rising millennial generation.
If he wins the primaries, Buttigieg would be the first openly gay presidential nominee.
"I'm certainly proud of who I am, I'm proud of my marriage to a wonderful husband. I also don't think that it defines me," Buttigieg told Nespral. "I want people to look at each candidate for everything we bring to the table as a person and in terms of policy."
For Buttigieg, understanding the struggle to belong in the United States and gaining a perspective on what it feels to be excluded arose from coming out.
"I think the struggle for belonging is a huge issue in our country right now. And so my story is different from everybody else's story, but it's one way that I can find the compassion and a sense of connection to other people in their struggles, and I would like to believe that that will make me better as a candidate and as a president," Buttigieg said.
The first debate, sponsored by NBC News, MSNBC, and Telemundo, will take place on Wednesday and Thursday from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. ET at the Adrienne Arsht Center in Miami.
Buttigieg is scheduled to debate on Thursday alongside Sen. Kamala Harris of California, former Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado, author Marianne Williamson, Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Gov. John Hickenlooper of Colorado.
The crowded Democratic campaign field will have a positive effect, according to Buttigieg.
"I think it's a good thing. I think now is a time that calls for a diversity of voices, and I'm proud to be part of the most diverse field in history running for president," Buttigieg said. "And I think that over time, it will become clear how our values are similar, and how our policies are partly similar and partly different, and more than anything, how we each represent a very different messenger on how to get these things done."
Buttigieg – who speaks six languages ("some better than others") – shared a message in Spanish to South Florida's Spanish-speaking community, which translates to:
"I believe the Latino community is one of the most important communities in the United States, and it has a lot of political power too -- but only if it votes. It is so important that Latino voters make their voices heard."