Karen DePaepe waited all day for a call from Pete Buttigieg. In 2012, the 30-year-old mayor of South Bend, In., had decided to replace the city’s first African-American police chief over complaints that he illegally wiretapped police officers’ phone calls. DePaepe, who oversaw the phone system, had called the mayor to talk him out of removing the popular chief. Buttigieg, now competing for the Democratic nomination for president, never called her back, and she was fired.
Buttigieg’s demotion of Chief Darryl Boykins and firing of DePaepe has shadowed his presidential campaign, giving rise to complaints he has a blind spot on race and raising questions about whether he can attract the support of African Americans crucial to earning the Democratic nomination, the Associated Press reports. It’s also reinforcing skepticism that the 37-year-old has the wisdom or experience to handle the demands of the Oval Office. Black Lives Matter activists have been protesting at his campaign events, in part over his handling of the case. Buttigieg says he was responding to a “thinly veiled” message from federal prosecutors. In his telling, he saved two people from criminal charges and took the heat for getting rid of a well-liked chief. AP interviews with 20 people familiar with the events paint a more complicated picture that is not so flattering to Buttigieg. Critics said his lack of experience led him to take actions that weren’t well thought out, and that his explanations don’t ring true. “It left a really, really bad taste in my mouth,” said Pastor Wendy Fultz, who is black and a leader of the activist group Faith In Indiana.