ATLANTA ― Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner, a co-chair and top surrogate for Bernie Sanders’ 2020 Democratic presidential campaign, tore into South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg during a fundraiser for Sanders downtown on Tuesday.
Turner, who is Black, did not name the 37-year-old Democratic presidential hopeful at the fundraiser, but it was clear whom she was referring to. In her speech, she criticized Buttigieg for not being able to “take care of the needs of Black folks in your own city” let alone the entire country.
Turner later told HuffPost that her comments about Buttigieg were made on her behalf and not the Sanders campaign. The 78-year-old Vermont senator has been reluctant to go after his fellow Democratic candidates on the campaign trail.
Buttigieg, who is white, has struggled to win over the support of Black voters during his campaign. His handling of the fatal shooting of a Black man by a white South Bend police officer in June drew backlash from some members of the community.
Following the shooting, Buttigieg canceled several campaign events to deal with the fallout at home. While he addressed a crowd of protesters who were calling for the officer to be fired, one woman shouted that Black people would never back him in the 2020 election.
“You’re running for president and you want Black people to vote for you? That’s not going to happen,” the woman told him.
“Ma’am, I’m not asking for your vote,” Buttigieg responded. “I will promise that there will be a review to make sure that there is no racism on this department and that it will be independent.”
Some voters, like Turner, perceived the remark as “arrogant” and “callous.”
“When a Black woman says to you over the shooting of a Black man in your city ... ‘I’m not going to vote for you for president,’ and you say to this Black woman, ‘I didn’t ask you for your vote,’ I don’t think you are in any position to be the president of the United States of America,” Turner said Tuesday, drawing cheers and applause from the packed upstairs bar of Suite Food Lounge.
Asked for comment about Buttigieg, Briahna Joy Gray, the Sanders campaign’s national press secretary, declined to comment.
“I think I’ll let her words speak for her,” Gray said.
Speaking later to HuffPost, Turner said, “If that’s how you handle a police shooting in your city, what’s going to happen when you become president and there continues to be police shootings across the country on unarmed Black men and women? ‘I didn’t ask you for your vote’? That’s callous. ... I expect the mayor to know better.”
A spokesperson for Buttigieg’s campaign said Wednesday that Turner’s comments mischaracterized the situation, noting that Buttigieg had been addressing protesters not as a presidential candidate but as a mayor trying to help the city heal.
Turner also called out the Buttigieg campaign’s disastrous rollout of his “Douglass Plan,” named after abolitionist Frederick Douglass, to combat racial inequities and increase economic prosperity in Black communities. Several Black South Carolinians have said Buttigieg misleadingly touted their support for the plan, introduced in July, in campaign materials put out last month.
“People have to stop taking the Black community for granted,” Turner told HuffPost. “It’s the same scene with that list of supporters he has on the Douglass Plan. Come to find out, most of those supporters on there are white. Some of those supporters never said they supported the plan. The Black community deserves more respect than that.”
Turner was referencing an op-ed published last month in the HBCU Times purportedly written by more than 400 endorsees of the Douglass Plan. But several told The Intercept that they were surprised to see their names attached to the plan.
Buttigieg’s campaign has said it sent the plan to supporters with a note asking them to opt out if they didn’t want their names listed in the op-ed. The campaign has also said it never publicly suggested all of the supporters were Black.
As The Intercept’s Ryan Grim noted in his reporting, the email sent to supporters said the list was meant to represent “over 400 Black South Carolinians.”
Turner’s remarks, made on the eve of the Democratic presidential debate in Atlanta, echo the concerns of many Black voters who are skeptical of Buttigieg’s campaign.
Black voters represent about 20% of the Democratic base. Though polls show Buttigieg excelling nationally, his support among this key bloc of voters remains exceedingly low.
A Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic voters in South Carolina released last month showed Buttigieg with just 1% support from African Americans. The same poll showed former Vice President Joe Biden with 39% Black voter support, followed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren with 11%, Sanders with 11% and California Sen. Kamala Harris with 8%.
Johnnie Cordero, chair of the South Carolina Democratic Party’s Black Caucus, was one of the “supporters” listed at the top of a press release about the Douglass Plan last month. He told The Intercept he has endorsed neither Buttigieg nor his plan.
Aside from the dubious list of supporters, Cordero told the outlet that there are other major issues with Buttigieg’s plan.
“It’s presumptuous to think you can come up with a plan for Black America without hearing from Black folk,” Cordero said. “There’s nothing in there that said Black folk had anything to do with the drafting of that plan.”
“Now I like Pete, please don’t get me wrong,” he added. “I’ll help him in any way I can. ... But you don’t do that. Those days are over and done with. We’re tired of people telling us what we need. You wanna find out what we need? Come and ask us.”
Buttigieg’s campaign told HuffPost that, in fact, a number of Black leaders and activists helped develop the Douglass Plan, including Douglass’ descendants.
“Our campaign is working to build a multi-racial coalition, and we sought and received input from numerous Black policy experts and advisers to create a comprehensive plan to dismantle systemic racism: the Douglass Plan,” the campaign said in a statement to The Intercept last week.
“Pete will continue to talk about the Douglass Plan wherever he goes, regardless of the audience, as there are many communities of Americans committed to eradicating racial inequity,” the statement concluded.
This story has been updated to include additional comment from Buttigieg’s campaign.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story mistakenly referenced poll numbers showing the combined first and second choices of Black voters in South Carolina as their first choice only. The numbers have been adjusted above.