Choosing the next president: Local pediatrician prefers Mayor Pete
Great Barrington — Perhaps, at Fuel, or the Marketplace, or walking down Main Street sometime in the past year you’ve noticed a trim, petite, be-spectacled woman who’s never seen without clothing, buttons, stickers indicating her status as a fan of presidential candidate Mayor Pete Buttigieg. May I introduce you to Dr. Claudia Gold of Egremont, who is, perhaps, Mayor Pete’s biggest Berkshire County fan. She’s got more than enough T-shirts to get her through the week, and swag to share if you’re interested. Though she says, “It’s an exciting time! I have to force myself to focus on my regular job,” Dr. Gold is a pediatrician whose clinical practice is limited to working with babies of moms with opioid use disorders. She trains practitioners who work with infants and parents on how to cultivate healthy relationships, and she’s also an author.
Claudia has heard Mayor Pete speak too many times to count and met him on several occasions. She attended the Democratic Convention in Manchester, New Hampshire, in September. On November 1st, she drove to Iowa through an Illinois snowstorm to join thousands of others from every state in the nation for a Pete rally. Most recently she spent five days canvassing door to door in New Hampshire, where Mayor Pete came in a close second to Vermont’s Bernie Sanders. The clearest indication of her faith in Buttigieg may be the fact she’s already secured a hotel reservation in South Bend, Indiana, for the night of November 3rd.
SC: At what stage did you decide that Pete is your guy and why?
CG: It was March  and I watched a very brief interview with Stephen Colbert, and it just stopped me in my tracks. “Who is this?” [He was also on the Late Show on February 6th.] The thing about Pete is it’s as much about him as it is about his bio. Well, certainly his bio is very striking. Being in the military, being gay, being a mayor, a Rhodes scholar. So there’s the content but really it was more his way of being. The calmness with which he spoke, and his incredible intelligence.
Then I saw another brief clip with Chris Wallace on FOX News and then I got his book, “Shortest Way Home,” a memoir, and I devoured it. That was it. It became an all-consuming thing.
The closest I’ve come to any kind of activism is when a pediatrician was running for Massachusetts governor, Don Berwick, against Charlie Baker. But nothing like this, and I’ve met many people just like me, who say the same thing.
It felt like this real engagement in democracy. Here was this Mayor no one had ever heard of.
[reading tee-shirt] Respect. Belonging. Truth. Teamwork. Boldness. Responsibility. Substance. Discipline. Excellence. Joy. Those are his rules of the road?
Yes. Early on in the campaign, he sent these out. These are the guide for anyone who works for the campaign. If you read anything about him, or see him, people are quite disciplined about being positive, and only speaking to what they love about Pete. We police each other a little bit, because things get ugly out there.
Being with people who are supporting Pete is really an experience of joy. The other rule that really resonated for me was the idea of belonging. When I first — I would say — fell in love with him— and most people who are supporting him would use those words — that was not a core theme of the campaign yet. But in May, he gave a talk to the Human Rights Campaign, and that was the first time I heard him introduce this idea of belonging.
I have a book coming out [“The Power of Discord,” with Dr. Ed Tronick ] and the last chapter is “From Discord to Connection and Belonging.” The things that are important to me in my professional life are in sync with the themes of his campaign. He is an extraordinary listener, so put that together with his calm demeanor, he brings out the good in people.
SC: If you open the door on me, and I say, “I think he’s great, I just don’t think the U.S. is going to elect a gay man.”
CG: Then I’ll say, “I had a similar reaction. It seems like a big jump.”
But when I read his book I learned when he came out in a very conservative state where Mike Pence was the governor, and it was so personally important to him he’d gone to war, and realized he hadn’t known love and he didn’t want to live his life that way.
In a risky moment in his political life he came out by writing an op-ed in the paper, and he was re-elected with 80 percent of the vote. People were able to look beyond that to what he was doing for them to make their lives better. In Iowa, he went to many communities that flipped from Obama to Trump, very red places. The campaign was worried that that’s where he would encounter the most homophobia, but that’s not what happened. He got big crowds. That’s one of the reasons he won Iowa, and he drew large numbers there. He’s showing he can win. It’s not theoretical.
He speaks about Future Former Republicans, and there are droves of those. I’ve met many of them. I was canvassing with a woman from Ohio, a former Republican who switched parties to not only vote for Pete, but to campaign for him. Sure, there will be people who won’t vote for a gay president, but many of those people might not vote democratic anyway.
SC: The other big criticism is his lack of experience. How does he answer to that?
CG: Again, I get that. I had a fascinating experience, where I met these three young men around his age. They told me they were volunteering as experts on his foreign policy team.
218 foreign policy and national security officials signed a letter of support for Buttigieg, writing, “Over the course of the past year, we have watched the emergence of a young leader who shares our belief in America’s leadership role and values,” the letter says, citing Buttigieg’s “intelligence, steadiness, demeanor and understanding of the forces now shaping the world.” It praises “his long-term approach to the generational consequences of near-term decisions.”
He brings people to him, but his experience is quite broad. Having been in Afghanistan, having run a city where you can’t just talk about how to fix potholes, you have to fix the potholes. He has tremendous executive skills. He built a campaign from four people to well over 500 by now, in a year.
SC: What about voters who are hemming and hawing about who to vote for, saying “I like him, but what about the rest of the country?”
CG: That segues with the other big issue, that of people of color. In New Hampshire and Iowa he has shown his electability. He won among rural voters, urban voters, suburban voters, women, young people. He was first or second with a broad coalition, but of course there are very few people of color in those states. So we’re gonna know very soon. But I’ve been listening closely to the voices of people working on the campaign, and people of color supporting the campaign, and what I hear is, there’s huge support from the African American community in South Bend for him. That’s not the way it’s been represented in the media. There are some vocal people who are angry about what happened over the summer with the police shooting.
But I follow a lot of the black women who work for the campaign and his South Carolina organizer Walter Clyburn Reed [grandson of Representative Jim Clyburn] who say they feel silenced and unseen by this prevailing media narrative that he doesn’t have black support. He does. How broad it is, we’ll see.
Another main objective for people of color is to get Trump out, so once they see that he has the potential to win, people will take a closer look at him. He had 5,000 people in Sacramento yesterday; there’s a huge grassroots movement you don’t see on tv.
SC: Going forward, what is your plan? Let’s say he continues with good showings, what is going to be your role from now until November?
CG: First of all, my plan is to go full speed ahead in Massachusetts, a super Tuesday state, so things are going to really gear up for volunteers now.
The digital campaign organization is amazing. Every day I get a link to a script and list of people to call wherever it’s needed. I can take 15 minutes and make calls to Nevada.
It’s unbelievable how willing people are to engage in conversation. My mother was in the hospital one weekend when I was supposed to go somewhere, so I found a quiet area in the hospital and made calls to New Hampshire. They really wanted my help to think through what to do. I talked to a lot of undecided voters.
I had a lovely conversation with a guy in Nevada whose first language was not English. There was a little trouble understanding each other. But he was for Pete and he said he felt that our country was an embarrassment in the world, and that Pete could change that. It felt like a real piece of democracy.
When he wins the nomination, then I have to go to a swing state. I already have plans with my friend who lives in Central Florida, the Republican heart of the state. I have this very vivid memory of 2016 and watching that red spill across the panhandle in Florida. I want to go to Florida and do everything I can. I think he has potential to win there.
I’ve mostly stopped watching the news. Pete has said what got us to this ugly place is so many people feel left out of the American project. His is the mirror image of Trumpism, and makes people feel they belong through love and connection. It’s seeming like there are more of those people, and that’s why it’s so hopeful to me.
My dad is 96. He lives in Hillsdale (N.Y.). He doesn’t like to call himself a Holocaust survivor. In 1939, when he was 16 and living in a small city called Hildesheim, he escaped Germany with a kinder transport to America. He went and lived with a family in Minneapolis, then enlisted in the U.S. military, and was sent back to Germany.
When the war ended, he happened to be stationed right near where he grew up, and he went to the mayor in Hildesheim. He hadn’t heard anything from his parents in four years and had no idea if they were even alive. The mayor was able to tell him that his parents had been sent to Theresienstadt [a concentration camp and ghetto in northern Germany].
So his commanding officer gave him a plane and pilot, but the plane was too small. They got a jeep and drove two days to the camp. They almost weren’t going to let them [his parents] out, because of typhoid. But because my father spoke German, they let him take them out, and they came back to the United States with my father and settled in New York.
Now my father sees what’s going on in our country, which is reminiscent of what he experienced. It is as scary as we think it is. He pays very close attention. He feels that Pete is the only hope to defeat Trump. That to me is an inspiration.
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