Before he became ‘Mayor Pete,’ Buttigieg worked as NBC 5 investigative intern

Pete Buttigieg

For six weeks during the summer of 2002, a 20-year-old college student named Peter Buttigieg toiled in the background as an intern at WMAQ-Channel 5, the NBC-owned station in Chicago.

Few could have imagined then that he would become mayor of his hometown of South Bend, Indiana, or that 18 years later he would be on the March 17 Illinois Democratic primary ballot as a candidate for president of the United States.

The record of his employment at NBC 5 — which ran from June 17 to July 28, 2002 — shows that Buttigieg received an “outstanding” rating on his evaluation form as an intern with the station’s investigative unit. Otherwise the files provide no other details about his time there.

Pete Buttigieg and Renee Ferguson

But Renee Ferguson, the Unit 5 investigative reporter who supervised Buttigieg that summer, recalled that the Harvard sophomore worked with her on an investigation of a sex offender who was believed to be working at a day care center in Chicago.

When Ferguson and her photographer (both of whom were black) tried to enter the building, they were stopped by a security guard. But Buttigieg made his way in and managed to capture undercover footage of the sex offender on the job.

“I think I understand what white privilege looks like,” Ferguson recalled telling Buttigieg, according to a Washington Post story last year. “I couldn’t get in, but you could. Think about how many times in your life that you’ve just been able to walk through doors and the rest of us got turned away.”

Buttigieg later said he couldn’t recall the episode, but he did remember interviewing black men who’d been assaulted by police and forced to make false confessions, the Post reported. In any case, his work with Ferguson helped shape his understanding of racism — a quest that continues to this day.

Ferguson, who retired from NBC 5 in 2008, is an outspoken supporter of Buttigieg’s candidacy, helping him make inroads with African-American voters who’ve been reluctant to embrace his campaign.

Buttigieg, who still refers to Ferguson as a mentor, not only worked for her that summer but wound up living with Ferguson and her family after she learned he didn’t have a place to stay.

“I watched him watching us and I came to understand how truly special Peter Buttigieg was,” Ferguson told the crowd in South Bend when he formally announced his presidential bid in April 2019.

“Pete was easy to ‘adopt,’” said his self-proclaimed “other mother.” “His folks had already raised a magnificent young man. . . . He was a great intern. When the internship was over I couldn’t say goodbye. My husband couldn’t say goodbye. . . . In the space of a few months we had come to love each other as family.”

That summer wasn’t the only time Buttigieg lived in Chicago. Following his graduation from Harvard and the University of Oxford, he returned in 2007 to work as a consultant for McKinsey & Company.

Living in a rented loft condo in the Loop, Buttigieg told the Sun-Times, he frequented Miller’s Pub and the Billy Goat Tavern and often would walk around Millennium Park or browse bookstores in Hyde Park.

Thursday’s comment of the day: Howard Sudberry: CBS 2 has a disdain for local sports. They would like to get rid of it as they feel it has no value. It will happen some day. Take it from somebody that knows even though I do not know the current management. I know the news director has a reputation for lack of sports coverage in market from where he came.