Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s campaign urged supporters to stop harassing black Americans on social media, warning that it could hurt his chances of winning the black vote.
“To our supporters — we know you love Pete, but fighting with Black folks, telling them how to feel DOES NOT HELP PETE,” Traveling Press Secretary Nina Smith pleaded with supporters. “Hopping into mentions doesn’t either.”
Smith, a prominent black staffer on the campaign, delivered an unusually frank 350-word statement on Twitter struggling to defuse the narrative that black people were unwilling to support the South Bend Mayor in South Carolina because he is an openly homosexual political figure married to a man.
“Any supporter pushing this homophobia narrative isn’t a true supporter of Pete,” she wrote.
Smith urged supporters to follow the campaign staff’s lead and to politely talk about Buttigieg’s proposals for the black community.
She had a stern message to supporters who were picking fights on social media.
“You are not an ally, you are causing more HARM. Do NOT use black people in gifs to dunk on Black folks,” she said, advising that if Buttigieg supporters were feeling “super emotional” they should “take a beat, breathe and STOP.”
“Especially if you are not POC or Black,” she added.
The controversy started after a campaign memo leaked to the New York Times about focus groups in South Carolina suggesting that “being gay was a barrier” for voters learning more about the young, white, South Bend Mayor from Indiana.
Buttigieg and his campaign denied leaking the memo to the Times, but the campaign immediately faced criticism for the narrative, triggering many of his young supporters on social media.
Smith blamed the media and “other voices” for the misunderstanding.
“To be clear: our campaign doesn’t buy into the homophobia narrative floating out there. AT ALL,” she wrote. “It’s come from the media (and other voices). No one on this campaign authorized that memo going public. And we’ve actively pushed back against it.”
Smith acknowledged that Buttigieg was a new face for black Americans and promised to work more on black outreach.
Buttigieg’s campaign moved immediately to address the issue, adding a political director, a deputy political director, and a state communications director in South Carolina, according to local newspaper The State. All three of them are African Americans.
Since he first got in the 2020 presidential race, Buttigieg faced warnings from political operatives that he would struggle to win the black vote, as a white, gay, male mayor, married to a man.
“We need to deal with homophobia in the faith and the black communities, and you should be judged by your merits,” Sharpton said. “And we can’t fight bigotry based on race, and we’re going to bigots based on sexual orientation.”