The mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is thought for maintaining a low profile. James Mueller was sworn into workplace on New Yr’s Day on the age of 37, making him a lot youthful than the mayors of different, comparably sized cities in his state. However he’s already acquainted with Metropolis Corridor, having spent 4 years within the earlier administration because the mayor’s chief of employees and the town’s director of group funding.
Mueller’s workplace didn’t reply to a number of requests from Slate to speak about his new job working a Midwestern metropolis of 100,000. However individuals who have labored with him describe him as very cerebral and reserved, removed from the polished stereotype of a politician. A local of South Bend, he obtained three bachelor’s levels from Notre Dame—one every in arithmetic, historical past, and philosophy—then went on to the College of Delaware to earn a Ph.D. in oceanography.
Like many brilliant younger individuals from midsize cities in the midst of the nation, he settled right into a job in a metropolitan coastal metropolis, working in Washington on public coverage for Congress and a suppose tank. However he reversed path and got here again residence to take a task in municipal authorities.
And now, whereas the nation is absorbed within the drama of presidential campaigns and geopolitical disaster, he takes cost of the street-level governance that shapes individuals’s on a regular basis lives. After defeating eight individuals within the main, he received the final election with 9,437 votes, or 63 p.c.
Mueller was not somebody who has sought to thrust himself out in entrance of the scenes. In interviews, individuals in South Bend who’ve handled him describe him as a technocrat who does extra listening than speaking. They stated he takes a facts-first method to management, and he isn’t afraid to delegate duty to individuals he trusts to evaluate the professionals and cons of conditions.
Individuals “had been having hassle picturing him as somebody who could possibly be a dynamic chief, who might transfer individuals together with his oratory,” stated Jeff Parrot, a longtime reporter for the South Bend Tribune who has lined Mueller since 2015. He didn’t give rousing speeches like extra charismatic youthful politicians. “However he received,” Parrott stated. “And so, now, his supporters have at all times stated that they’re assured that he’ll develop into that position, that he’ll achieve a few of these political expertise as he settles into the workplace. That’ll be fascinating to see, if he modifies in any respect.”
Change is a vital query in a metropolis that has constructed a picture round itself as an evolving place.
Denise Riedl, who holds the place of South Bend’s chief innovation officer, stated that Mueller is excited about utilizing the town’s current SB Stat program as a approach to assess neighborhood power and the way present metropolis packages are lifting up neighborhoods. Ought to they be scaled, ought to the town be pivoting into new instructions? The goal is to grasp neighborhood well being by integrating the work of groups from public works, code enforcement, and humanities departments.
Mueller is maintaining the division heads he labored with from the earlier administration. However some residents hope he can direct the town’s current imaginative and prescient of change in new instructions, and to new locations.
Wayne Hubbard, a group activist and organizer who’s pushing for college reform, a homeless prevention plan, and legalizing medicinal and leisure marijuana use, stated he hopes that Mueller will focus his energies on constructing areas of the town exterior of downtown, within the poorer neighborhoods on South Bend’s west and southeast sides, the place the decline of producing has led to a long time of misery.
“If [the city] can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on parks, they will spend one million dollars and clear up a whole facet of a neighborhood,” Hubbard stated. “They might do the identical issues and so they simply don’t. The one factor that’s modified in South Bend is downtown. Downtown is doing nice. The remainder of the town? It’s ravenous.”
Jorden Giger, an activist with Black Lives Matter South Bend, labored with Mueller in his earlier official roles.
“He has a chance proper now to actually make a change and do one thing totally different,” stated Giger. Giger stated Mueller informed him his administration will take note of “addressing current disparities alongside the road of race and sophistication—so we’ll see.”
In his earlier roles, Giger stated, Mueller did make adjustments to the established order, but it surely didn’t come with out strain from the surface and Metropolis Council members. Giger recounts one occasion when native organizers pushed Mueller’s division and the town to put aside dollars for a neighborhood influence survey as half of a bigger city-commissioned market research.
“With regards to issues of race and sophistication, like he actually didn’t know an entire lot after I first met him,” stated Giger. However, he stated, he’s seen the brand new mayor study issues over time. “All in all, I’m hopeful, as a result of I’ve had a more in-depth working relationship with him,” Giger stated. “I do know that he’s somebody who can actually be pushed.”
Giger hopes that Mueller will probably be intentional about together with people who traditionally haven’t been included. “He has to make room for different voices to have the ability to weigh in on points,” he stated.
Giger additionally stated he needs to see Mueller work with enterprise house owners of shade, particularly Black ones, to make sure they’re getting contracts with the Metropolis of South Bend. And he requires extra police accountability—together with an implicit or a cultural competency take a look at for the police and a residents assessment board that has energy to subpoena, prosecute and to rent or fireplace officers.
“I believe that James will probably be OK,” stated Muhammad Shabazz, an activist who can also be the Democratic member of the St. Joseph County voter registration board. “I talked to my councilperson, Tim Scott, usually and Tim will probably be working with him. Tim is the president of the council, so he’ll have the ability to work with folks that bought information of the whole lot that’s happening that’s been there for some time.
“I imply he has quite a lot of help,” Shabazz stated, “in order that works in his favor.”