What Being a Mayor Taught Pete Buttigieg

“It has been a hard thing for Pete and for his administration to not be a top-down policymaker, but to find ways of gaining authentic input from large varieties of people,” said Ms. Schuth, director of Near Northwest Neighborhood Inc., which helps low-income residents buy homes. “And I absolutely think he’s gotten better at that.”

To Oliver Davis, a former South Bend city council member who often tangled with Mr. Buttigieg, the former mayor is simply too green. “He’s ready on Day 2” of a crisis, is how Mr. Davis, who supports Mr. Biden, put it.

Jake Teshka, the only Republican on the South Bend city council, said that Mr. Buttigieg won his support for one initiative to address lead poisoning — requiring city inspections of rental units — over Mr. Teshka’s initial objection. “He brought in the Real Estate Investors Association, he brought tenants’ rights groups — folks from the far right, far left, he brought them to the table,” Mr. Teshka said. “We got down and dirty with it and the mayor was supportive through the whole thing.”

Mr. Teshka said Mr. Buttigieg had more relevant governing experience than either of the past two presidents, having managed more than 1,000 city employees and reached out to opponents to get things done. “Objectively speaking and removing partisanship, I’d say, look, it’s more scalable than being a reality TV star,” he said.

One morning in 2013, in his first term, Mr. Buttigieg arrived at work in the County-City Building, his body braced against the whoosh of five lanes of one-way traffic. “It’s always bothered me we have this racetrack downtown,” he told his senior staff.

Streets in the central city were designed to speed drivers to homes and shopping in the suburbs. Mr. Buttigieg believed a revival of South Bend, which Newsweek had named a “dying city,” should start with the urban core.

His Smart Streets initiative proposed converting central thoroughfares to allow two-way traffic, and adding bicycle lanes, trees and on-street parking, all to slow vehicles and encourage pedestrians.