Review: 'Mayor Pete' an Inside Look at a Historic Campaign

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Friday November 12, 2021

'Mayor Pete'
'Mayor Pete'  (Source:Amazon Prime Video)

Remember how the first credible openly gay candidate from one of the major parties rocketed from relative obscurity to the #3 spot in the crowded field of Democratic contenders before the 2020 elections? If you'd forgotten the excitement of that time, it will come back to you in the documentary "Mayor Pete."

Director Jesse Moss was with the Pete Buttigieg campaign a year ahead of the Iowa Caucus, following the youthful candidate — and mayor of South Bend, Indiana — as he spoke with communities, heard their support, and (of course) fielded the inevitable questions (and heckling incidents) that came with breaking new ground. (The very first question Buttigieg takes at the first press event we're shown has to do with him being out as a gay man.)

But there's so much more to the story, beginning with his marriage to husband Chasten Buttigieg, who, like Pete, is interviewed here and offers his thoughts about the campaign trail and political life in America. Chasten is a steady, and steadying, presence for Pete, as well as being a window into the former candidate's emotional life. Praised for being smart and calm, Buttigieg was also lambasted for seeming emotionally detached and cool; those characterizations evaporate as we see him eating at a restaurant with Chasten, wondering if he can start with dessert, or — later on, at another eatery — playfully tapping his husband's pinky in a playful gesture of marital affection.

What comes across most vividly, though, is Buttigieg the candidate: Whether being drilled by his relentlessly direct director of communications, or brilliantly fending off attacks from fellow Democratic hopefuls at a debate, we get a refresher on Buttigieg's ability to communicate clearly, concisely, and in a dignified, on-message manner that (as one member of the public notes) makes him a "polar opposite" to certain other politicians, including the president that Joe Biden eventually succeeded.

Speaking of Biden, it's a matter of historical record, of course, that he won in South Carolina on Primary Day and assumed the mantle of Democratic candidate in the 2020 election; it's further a historical fact that Biden went on to win the White House. What shouldn't get lost in the shuffle is Buttigieg's response to coming in third, after Biden and Sanders, in North Carolina: He stepped back and threw his support to the man who went on to become president. Presciently, Buttigieg, explaining his decision to Chasten, said, "That's how you win a presidential campaign" — not as a single candidate, but as a party. It takes commitment, discipline, and the ability to put ego aside.

Buttigieg displays all those qualities, and not just at the end of his campaign. From anti-gay protestors to unsparing questions from the Black press, and the Black community in his own town of South Bend, Buttigieg shows that he's open to hearing what people need to say, and taking them seriously. He has, in is own words, a sense of his own "combination of privilege and exclusion," and that made him a unique candidate in 2020... and might do so again in the future.

As Buttigieg notes, "Time is on my side."

"Mayor Pete" streams on Amazon Prime Video starting Nov. 12.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.