President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will nominate Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., to lead the Department of Transportation, adding a young-generation voice to his team, said a person familiar with Mr. Biden’s deliberations.
Mr. Buttigieg, 38, fought a fierce battle for the Democratic presidential nomination but bowed out and endorsed Mr. Biden. The two men bonded during the general election campaign and Mr. Biden made it clear that he wanted to find a place for Mr. Buttigieg in his administration.
If he is confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Buttigieg would become the first openly gay person to serve as a cabinet secretary, shattering a barrier and contributing to Mr. Biden’s promise to make his administration “look like America.” Under President Trump, Richard Grenell, who is also openly gay, served as acting director of National Intelligence, a cabinet-level post. But he did not face Senate confirmation as the acting leader.
“Mayor Pete Buttigieg was open and honest about his identity throughout his time on the national scene, giving a voice to our community, and a new vision of who and how our leaders can love,” said Alphonso David, the president of Human Rights Campaign, an L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy group.
A Navy veteran, Mr. Buttigieg could have led the Department of Veterans Affairs. But Mr. Biden decided instead to put him in charge of transportation, which is likely to become a key part of the administration’s efforts to combat climate change with aggressive actions on emissions. Reuters earlier reported Mr. Biden’s choice of Mr. Buttigieg.
In his presidential bid, Mr. Buttigieg proved himself to be among the Democratic Party’s most skilled communicators, transforming himself from a small-city mayor to a top-polling presidential candidate.
While Mr. Biden, like many others in the 2020 Democratic presidential field, was at first annoyed by Mr. Buttigieg’s presidential ambitions — and before the New Hampshire primary belittled his mayoral experience in revitalizing South Bend’s sidewalks — but the two grew closer in their shared effort to hold back the party’s more liberal contenders.
As a candidate, Mr. Buttigieg consistently argued for the government to take strong steps to fight global warming. And his tenure as the leader of a local community provides him experience with the infrastructure needs of cities and counties, another key priority for Mr. Biden.
At debates, it was Mr. Buttigieg who scraped with Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, leaving Mr. Biden to largely stay above the fray.
And when Mr. Buttigieg ended his campaign after registering paltry support from Black voters in the South Carolina primary, the Biden campaign gave him his own endorsement event — a plum not afforded to fellow rivals like Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and former Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas, who threw their support to Mr. Biden at a campaign rally hours later.
Becoming part of Mr. Biden’s cabinet will give Mr. Buttigieg a national perch from which to advance his future political career in the Democratic Party.
It will also allow him to apply some of the experience with transit policy he gained during his mayorship to national challenges surrounding infrastructure that cause perennial bipartisan frustration.
Mr. Buttigieg, whose calling card as a presidential candidate was a claim to have revived a dying Midwestern city, made transportation corridors an early focus. Shortly after being elected mayor in 2012, he set about transforming the South Bend’s downtown through an initiative named Smart Streets aimed at reducing traffic, adding bike lanes, and making certain areas more pedestrian friendly.
After years of political resistance, the investment in infrastructure ignited a revival of the downtown area. New hotels, retail and residential conversions of lofts followed, and about 1,000 people had taken up residence in downtown South Bend by the time Mr. Buttigieg left office this January, compared to virtually zero when he first took office.
“Pete’s nomination is a new milestone in a decades-long effort to ensure LGBTQ people are represented throughout our government — and its impact will reverberate well-beyond the department he will lead,” said Annise Parker, the president of L.G.B.T.Q. Victory Institute, in a statement. “Most important, however, is that Pete will bring his intellect and energy to the Department of Transportation and our nation will be better off because of it.”
Reid Epstein and Trip Gabriel contributed reporting.