Buttigieg campaign accused of improperly using names of black leaders in support letter amid struggles to attract African American voters

pete buttigiegDemocratic presidential candidate South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg delivers a Veterans Day address at a campaign event Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in Rochester, N.H.Associated Press/Elise Amendola

  • Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign falsely said that three prominent black figures in South Carolina supported his Douglass Plan for Black America, according to a report from The Intercept.
  • In late October, Buttigieg's campaign released an article published in the HBCU Times praising the plan, citing an open letter on behalf of Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Devine, Rehoboth Baptist pastor and state Rep. Ivory Thigpen, and Johnnie Cordero, chair of the state party's Black Caucus, in addition to more than 400 Douglass Plan endorsers.
  • But, The Intercept found, none of those three people actually supported Buttigieg as a candidate, and two of the three never endorsed his Douglass Plan.
  • Additionally, at least 42 percent of the more than 400 supporters on the list are white.
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Pete Buttigieg's presidential campaign is facing criticism after some of the 400 black South Carolinans who it said supported his Douglass Plan for Black America came out to dispute the way their names were published, The Intercept reported on Friday.

Throughout his campaign, and despite soaring to first place in a recent Iowa poll, Buttigieg has struggled to appeal to black voters. An October poll in The Charleston Post and Courier found that the South Bend, Indiana mayor had next to no black voter support in South Carolina, and only four percent support in the state overall.

In late October, amid efforts to win support among the black community, his campaign released an article published in the HBCU Times praising his Douglass Plan, citing an open letter on behalf of Columbia City Councilwoman Tameika Devine, Rehoboth Baptist pastor and state Rep. Ivory Thigpen, and Johnnie Cordero, chair of the state party's Black Caucus, in addition to more than 400 Douglass Plan endorsers.

"There is one presidential candidate who has proven to have intentional policies designed to make a difference in the Black experience, and that's Pete Buttigieg. We are over 400 South Carolinians, including business owners, pastors, community leaders, and students. Together, we endorse his Douglass Plan for Black America, the most comprehensive roadmap for tackling systemic racism offered by a 2020 presidential candidate," the HBCU Times article notes.

But, according to The Intercept, there's a problem: none of those three prominent black politicians say they support Buttigieg as a candidate, and two of the three say they never explicitly allowed for a named endorsement of his Douglass plan.

Devine, who has yet to endorse a presidential candidate, told The Intercept that she believes the campaign was "intentionally vague" about the way her support for the plan was presented, adding that she did not intend for it to be viewed as an endorsement for Buttigieg. Meanwhile, both Thigpen and Cordero (who is no longer listed publicly as a supporter in the HBCU Times article) said they never even endorsed the plan to begin with.

"I didn't know about its rolling out. Somebody brought it to my attention, and it was alarming to me, because even though I had had conversations with the campaign, it was clear to me, or at least I thought I made it clear to them, that I was a strong Bernie Sanders supporter - actually co-chair of the state, and I was not seeking to endorse their candidate or the plan. But what I had talked about was potentially giving them a quote of support in continuing the conversation, because I do think it's a very important conversation," Thigpen told The Intercept.

"I never endorsed that plan. I don't know how my name got on there. No, that's not true: I know how my name got on there," Cordero said, telling The Intercept that Buttigieg's staff reached out and asked for his feedback on the plan.

"It's presumptuous to think you can come up with a plan for black America without hearing from black folk. There's nothing in there that said black folk had anything to do with the drafting of that plan," he added. "Now I like Pete, please don't get me wrong. I'll help him in any way I can. I think he's an honest man, I think he's a decent man, I think he has integrity. I'd like to see him keep running. 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."

The Intercept discovered another surprising feature of the more than 400 supporters of the plan: at least 42 percent of them are white. 

The Buttigieg campaign told The Intercept that it had sent the plan to the list of supporters and gave them the option of opting out if they didn't want to be included. According to that email, the list was specifically supposed to represent "over 400 Black South Carolinians for the plan."

"Pete believes we need to dismantle systemic racism in order to deliver justice for Black Americans and make our country whole," a Buttigieg spokesperson told the Intercept. "Which is why, as we said the time of its release, we're proud the Douglass plan has earned the support of many South Carolinians, including many African-Americans. 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."

On Friday, The Intercept's Ryan Grim noted an additional issue with how the Buttigieg campaign has promoted the plan:

Read the full article from The Intercept here

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