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Reflecting Back: A Conversation Between Senator Lugar and Mayor Pete

Sen. Richard Lugar, left, with South Bend Mayor (and current Democratic presidential candidate) Pete Buttigieg

By Edward Frantz, professor of history and chair of the Department of History and Political Science

On a crisp October day in 2013, former Senator Richard Lugar sat down with an up-and-coming mayor from South Bend by the name of Pete Buttigieg. Their conversation served as the keynote for the first annual Richard M. Fairbanks Symposium on Civic Leadership at the University of Indianapolis. This symposium, held in conjunction with our partner Indiana Humanities, brings together thought leaders across the state and beyond. From the instant we heard that conversation, all of us in the room knew that we had witnessed something special.

Listen to the 2013 conversation between Sen. Lugar and Mayor Buttigieg

Fast forward to 2019. Earlier this year Mayor Pete began an improbable run into the national spotlight, making a name for himself in a crowded Democratic presidential primary. In late April, meanwhile, Indiana lost one of its most distinguished citizens when Senator Lugar died at the age of 87. Observers reflected on Senator Lugar’s many legacies, both in his hometown of Indianapolis and across the world. 

As the University of Indianapolis prepared for its sixth Fairbanks Symposium, held in May 2019, others noted that it was the fiftieth anniversary of the most important event in the history of modern Indianapolis. Unigov, the legislation that merged the city and the county, was also central to Lugar’s political fortunes. No person had been more responsible for the legislation, nor had done more with the publicity resulting from the changes, than Lugar.

As the variety of events transpired, I heard renewed interest in this conversation from a number of circles. Yes, it was true: we had once brought Lugar and Buttigieg together for a public audience. Not only do I have the photographs, but I also have the audio as proof! Some of our modest efforts to showcase the discussion had existed as podcasts for a number of years. In the past, these have generated modest interest and demand. When I told journalist Adam Wren about one of our best small podcasts, which we called “The Importance of the Humanities,” he asked if we had more of the conversation. I responded, “of course,” and asked if he thought there would be interest in the conversation in its entirety. His answer, I believe, was a palm slap to the forehead that could be heard throughout the twittersphere.

We are proud to release the entirety of the conversation. The discussion covers an overview of Lugar’s entrance into politics, pointers about how to build governing coalitions, an overview of night of April 4, 1968, as well as a memorable exchange about how much Lugar and Buttigieg valued their training in the humanities. Listeners can be reminded of Lugar’s photographic memory, as well as Buttigieg’s unique ability to frame issues of leadership, as well as the ways in which executive experience are helpful in politics. The University of Indianapolis is thankful for its partnership with Indiana Humanities, and the support provided by the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation, the Lilly Endowment, and other corporate and individual philanthropic sponsors Those wishing to learn more about the Institute can visit our webpage, or can visit the digital mayoral archives here. Other podcast episodes, meanwhile, can be found here.