WASHINGTON – Pete Buttigieg was a few weeks into his job as transportation secretary, buried in meetings and preparing for the launch of President Joe Biden’s $2.3 trillion public works plan, when evening arrived along with a time to try something new in Washington.
Instead of climbing into the back seat of a black SUV like most Cabinet secretaries, he headed to a bike-share rack. Helmet on, and with a couple of Secret Service agents flanking him, he pedaled the mile-long trip to his home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.
It wasn't a one-time stunt. On Thursday, Buttigieg arrived at the White House for a Cabinet meeting on his two-wheeler. And that wasn't his only “regular guy” moment. Dog park devotees in the District of Columbia have also seen him there, chatting up anyone from children to members of Congress such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.
Buttigieg first had his eye on the job of the man who is now his boss, Biden. Buttigieg's presidential campaign was surprisingly successful — he essentially tied for first with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders in the Iowa caucuses and finished a close second to him in the New Hampshire primary — and he made a strong impression as someone who represented the future of the Democratic Party.
Now the man known during his campaign as “Mayor Pete" — he was the mayor of South Bend, Indiana — faces the first test of that potential in his first job in Washington: leading a Cabinet department with a $75 billion annual budget and a mandate to help spur an infrastructure program that Biden has likened to the the building of the interstate highway system in the 1950s.
He will have to navigate the complicated politics of both an entrenched bureaucracy at the Transportation Department and the fraught politics of a bitterly divided Washington.
He may have found a way by just riding a bike, which has gained fans from even skeptics in Congress.
“You've got to keep your head up,” Buttigieg told The Associated Press, explaining the path and potential dangers posed from unaccustomed drivers, but he said it can be a much quicker journey from point A to B.