If Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg wants to be president, he will need to master the art of public relations first.
Following the collapse of a section of I-95 in northeast Philadelphia, Buttigieg hid behind his Twitter account. The I-95 corridor is a vital transportation artery in the northeastern U.S. and the impacted section carried 160,000 vehicles each day.
The collapse happened after a tanker truck tried going under the bridge and caught fire. The fire melted the girders holding up the bridge causing it to collapse. The steel supporting the bridge was not protected by steel-reinforced concrete. It could take months to replace.
“Closely monitoring the fire and collapse on I-95 in Pennsylvania. I‘ve been in touch with FHWA and spoke with Gov. Shapiro to offer any assistance that USDOT can provide to help with recovery and reconstruction,” Buttigieg tweeted on Sunday.
Pete Buttigieg Stands in Contrast With Predecessor
In August 2007, it took 14 months to replace the I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River in Minneapolis after it collapsed killing 145 people. Buttigieg’s predecessor then Transportation Secretary Mary Peters was on the scene a few days later, and she held a press conference aboard Air Force One about the bridge collapse the day it happened.
By contrast, Buttigieg was nowhere to be found on the scene.
Buttigieg could have hopped on Amtrak or flown to Philadelphia to attend Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro’s Sunday press conference at the site.
His recent Fiscal Year 2024 budget request includes $650 million for bridge rehabilitation in addition to $1.8 billion that his department already requested in advanced appropriations for bridges. The 2021 Infrastructure Report Card prepared by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that 42% of the nation’s bridges are over 50 years old and 12% of highway bridges are over 80 years old. Most structurally deficient bridges are nearly 69 years old. The allocation is far short of what is needed to solve the nation’s bridge problems.
“The collapse in Philadelphia wasn’t Buttigieg’s fault, obviously. However, the way he reacts to it will be. Clearly, there are now many infrastructure concerns in the area. There’s no reason he couldn’t have visited the city on Sunday, and there’s no reason he shouldn’t be there on Monday,” Philadelphia native Christopher Tremoglie wrote in a column in The Washington Examiner. “It is an important matter that affects hundreds of thousands of people. It’s time for Buttigieg to do more than talk, tweet, or go on talk shows. It’s time for him to start acting like the transportation secretary and do his job.”
Failing in East Palestine
Buttigieg similarly was absent following the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio in February. He waited almost two weeks before visiting the site. The train carrying the highly toxic and flammable polyvinyl chloride derailed on February 3; however, Buttigieg did not show up until February 23. Former President Donald Trump visited the town before Buttigieg. He said nothing about the derailment until February 13.
Reporters slammed Buttigieg for his delayed response during his February 23 press conference and looked rattled amid the questions.
“It’s interesting that someone who is not in government like President Trump got there before the secretary of transportation. That sort of says it all,” Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan said. “This administration is way too focused on all of the politically correct woke stuff and not focused on serving the American people — I think that’s the takeaway.”
Buttigieg Absent on Southwest
Buttigieg similarly received criticism for his handling of the Southwest meltdown in December. Critics said he was ineffective and absent.
“This sector needs a more effective policeman on the beat. They need someone over at the Department of Transportation who is going to get the job done,” Washington Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell said of Buttigieg’s handling of the situation.
Americans want a take-charge kind of a guy. Thus far, Buttigieg has come short with that part of the job. Leadership requires getting out in front of the news cycle instead of tweeting. His responses show he still has the mentality of a small-town politician and does not understand what it means to be on the national stage.
John Rossomando was a senior analyst for Defense Policy and served as Senior Analyst for Counterterrorism at The Investigative Project on Terrorism for eight years. His work has been featured in numerous publications such as The American Thinker, The National Interest, National Review Online, Daily Wire, Red Alert Politics, CNSNews.com, The Daily Caller, Human Events, Newsmax, The American Spectator, TownHall.com, and Crisis Magazine. He also served as senior managing editor of The Bulletin, a 100,000-circulation daily newspaper in Philadelphia, and received the Pennsylvania Associated Press Managing Editors first-place award for his reporting.