Pete Buttigieg speaking with Roben Farzad at the Modlin Center for the Arts

Mayor Pete at Modlin: Buttigieg interviewed for public radio show

December 5, 2023


During the Dec. 1 taping of his Full Disclosure podcast, host Roben Farzad acknowledged the high profile of his guest. 

“How many other secretaries of transportation can you name?” asked Farzad, a Robins journalist-in-residence, to the laughter of the sold-out Modlin Center audience.

Before his current position, Pete Buttigieg, popularly known as “Mayor Pete,” attended Harvard then Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, picking up seven languages along the way. He served as a McKinsey consultant, a Navy officer in Afghanistan, and a two-term mayor of South Bend, Indiana, before winning the Iowa caucus during a presidential run in 2020. He’s also the father of twins.

“And he’s only 41,” Farzad said to the crowd.

After the introduction, the host began with a question about the problems passengers face during airline travel. Working with airlines to make improvements is having an impact, Buttigieg said.

“The Sunday after Thanksgiving, 2.9 million passengers were screened by TSA and the cancellation rate was less than one-half of 1%,” he said.

The interview also delved into Buttigieg’s experience overseeing projects funded through the new Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The program sets aside $550 billion over fiscal years 2022 through 2026 for improving roads, bridges, and mass transit, water infrastructure, resilience, and broadband. Projects include the more than 150-year-old Baltimore and Potomac Tunnel and the Hudson River Tunnel.

Buttigieg, to laughter, described the latter as “The finest, most up to date, state-of-the-art engineering technology of the Roosevelt administration,” he paused. “The Teddy Roosevelt administration."

Buttigieg also discussed the desire among Americans for high-speed rail. In a few weeks, his department plans to announce news on this topic. “It’s been 50 years since the last major investment in passenger rail,” Buttigieg said.

The conversation then turned to the topic of electric vehicles. Farzad asked if there would be a moment, as there was with smart phones, when suddenly everyone would have one.

Buttigieg said he’s not expecting “an overnight unlock moment …  the grid isn’t ready for it.” His department’s ambition is for EVs to comprise about half of new car sales by the end of the decade.

While much of the time was devoted to his current duties as transportation secretary — “planes, trains, and automobiles,” quipped Farzad — he also answered questions about his run for the presidency, in which he won the Iowa caucus, his recent move to Michigan, and his personal life.

In one of the most poignant moments, Buttigieg spoke about being closeted for so many years. When he came back from Afghanistan, he announced he was gay — right in the middle of his second mayoral election year.

Despite the inconvenience of the moment, “I just knew it was time.”

Before the show, Buttigieg met with UR students and talked about current events and the importance of public service.

One of those students was Ava Lowry, a senior studying business who has worked on Capitol Hill the past two summers. She is president of the Robins School of Business Student Government Association. Robins SGA members served as ambassadors and assisted guests at the event.

“We connected over both being from Indiana,” Lowry said. “It was also really cool to let him know that I had worked on the FAA reauthorization this summer which his office oversaw.”

Will Iboshi, a sophomore who serves UR on the President’s Student Advisory Board, is double majoring in political science and global studies. He spoke with Buttigieg and took a photo with him.

“I was excited when I learned Secretary Buttigieg would be visiting UR,” Iboshi said. “As a queer student looking to pursue a career in public service or law, I was very enthusiastic to directly hear from someone I've looked up to for years,” Iboshi said.

Iboshi said he was grateful the University can bring speakers like Buttigieg to campus.

“One of the inspiring moments during our meet and greet is when he said that 'if you won't run, somebody else who may not have values that align with yours might otherwise,'” he said. “I think that re-iterated for me that even if public service and leadership are imperfect, we need young leaders to be represented in government and lead future change.”