Pete Buttigieg Is Met With Protests as He Opens His Fund-Raisers to Press
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Ind., faced back-to-back days of protest this week, as liberal activists dogged his high-dollar fund-raisers with calls of “Wall Street Pete,” amid a growing effort by progressives to try to halt his momentum in the Iowa and New Hampshire nominating contests.
The protests, while modest, are a sign of bubbling frustration on the left with the candidate’s gradual embrace of more moderate politics and his practice of soliciting donations from the wealthy. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a chief rival of Mr. Buttigieg’s for the Democratic presidential nomination, tapped into that frustration in a speech on Thursday about the economy and corruption.
Ms. Warren, who is not holding private fund-raisers as she campaigns for president, did not address Mr. Buttigieg by name, but noted that he “calls people who raise a quarter-million dollars for him his ‘National Investors Circle,’ and he offers them regular phone calls and special access.”
“When a candidate brags about how beholden he feels to a group of wealthy investors, our democracy is in serious trouble,” she said.
Mr. Buttigieg, who opened his fund-raisers to the news media this week after Ms. Warren pressured him to do so, had been holding court Wednesday night inside a brownstone on the Upper West Side of Manhattan when protesters began banging pots and pans outside the residence and shouting “Wall Street Pete!” according to a pool report.
“Wow, they’re excited,” Mr. Buttigieg joked, according to the report. “One of the things you learn on a deployment is dealing with distracting noises.”
The group of about 10 protesters who remained after the event identified themselves as part of the progressive advocacy group New York Communities for Change. Jonathan Westin, the group’s executive director, criticized Mr. Buttigieg for having “come to New York to raise money in rich people’s living rooms” and not spending time “talking to any of the everyday people who live here.”
At various points in his campaign, Mr. Buttigieg has signaled progressive values, praising the Green New Deal as “the right beginning,” calling for decriminalizing illegal border crossings and dismissing concerns about raising middle class taxes to pay for expanded health care. But in recent months, he has modulated those positions and others as he has sought to move toward the center — an adjustment that has helped bolster his standing in Iowa, where some polls show him in the lead. The protests underscore how some progressive voters are dismayed by the shift.
“He’s trying to run an insurgent campaign as a millennial presidential candidate, but he’s doing exactly the same tactics of every president who has run before him: high-dollar campaign fund-raisers in Manhattan living rooms while saying he’s a blue-collar guy from the Midwest,” Mr. Westin said. “That just doesn’t square with us.”
Mr. Westin, whose group also protested at a fund-raiser for Mr. Buttigieg on Tuesday on the Upper East Side, stressed that his organization had not endorsed a candidate for the Democratic nomination and said that the protests had not been conducted in coordination with the campaigns of any of Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals.
The Buttigieg campaign did not comment on the protests.
The brownstone that was the site of the Wednesday protest is the home of Kevin Ryan, an investor and entrepreneur who founded or co-founded companies including Business Insider and Gilt Groupe, and his wife, Pascaline Servan-Schreiber, a documentary film producer and business development executive. In 2012, Mr. Ryan hosted a Senate campaign fund-raiser at the residence for Ms. Warren.
Mr. Buttigieg’s decision this week to open up his fund-raisers to the press and disclose the name of his bundlers came amid a series of disclosures that also included the release of his client list from his time at the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.
As recently as Thursday morning, Mr. Buttigieg, whose work at McKinsey has drawn intense scrutiny, defended taking big-dollar donations, arguing that he would need to bring “everything we’ve got” to the fight to defeat President Trump.
Angst about Mr. Buttigieg’s move to the middle had led some former supporters to ask that their donations to his campaign be refunded. Twitter users have taken to using the hashtag #RefundPete, though an official with Mr. Buttigieg’s campaign cautioned that it has also been amplified by members of the far right. It is not clear how many donors have requested a refund, and the Buttigieg campaign declined to provide a number.
Conor Bronsdon, 27, said he had donated a few dollars to Mr. Buttigieg in March after seeing him speak at a town hall event, but that he had become increasingly disappointed as the candidate embraced more moderate positions in recent months. He said in an interview that he grew even more concerned recently as information emerged about Mr. Buttigieg’s work at McKinsey. He wrote to the campaign on Tuesday to ask for a refund after hearing the candidate give what he called a “very flippant” response to a question about money in politics. He received the refund shortly thereafter.
“I’m very glad that people who are disillusioned by his shift in values are getting out there, getting their refund and making their voices heard,” Mr. Bronsdon said.
Reid J. Epstein contributed reporting and Kitty Bennett contributed research.
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