A new report alleges that former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg touted “partnerships” with black-owned businesses in South Carolina that the business owners denied making.
Last week, Buttigieg penned an op-ed in a South Carolina newspaper “The State” promoting his “Frederick Douglass Plan,” which he describes is “a comprehensive investment in the empowerment of Black America” that was developed with the help of black activists and business leaders.
“That begins with entrepreneurship, and our campaign has proudly partnered with local businesses like Diane’s Kitchen in Chester, Atlantis Restaurant in Moncks Corner and the Fair Deal Grocery on Charleston’s Eastside,” Buttigieg wrote.
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However, according to ABC News, two of those businesses, Diane’s Kitchen and Atlantis Restaurant, said they “only remembered welcoming Buttigieg’s campaign as customers, not forging any sort of partnership with the candidate.”
“I stand for what I stand for and I didn’t say I had a partnership,” Diane’s Kitchen owner, Diane Cole, told ABC News.
The report then alleges that the Buttigieg campaign attempted to “persuade” Cole into changing her position so that “it would more closely match the language Buttigieg used in his op-ed” in multiple messages after ABC News asked the campaign about Cole’s response.
“It sounds like you’re saying that I am your business partner. I’m only going to accept that you all stopped in while you were campaigning in South Carolina and I welcomed you all,” Cole told the campaign in one message.
In a response to Fox News, the Buttigieg campaign clarified that the “partnerships” that the candidate cited in the op-ed were in reference to the campaign events held at those establishments and that they did not equate to endorsements for his candidacy.
“Pete has put forward the most comprehensive plan for Black America, which includes investing in the growth of Black-owned businesses and supporting Black entrepreneurs. We’re proud to live our values as a campaign by holding events and spending money at Black-owned businesses in South Carolina and across the country, something we will continue to do throughout the campaign,” a Buttigieg campaign spokesperson told Fox News.
Buttigieg, who has continued to struggle to gain support among black voters in the polls, faced similar backlash last fall for using stock photos of minorities, including an image of woman from Kenya, to promote the “Douglass Plan” on his website.
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The Buttigieg campaign told Fox News that the Kenya photo “was removed from the page on our website promoting the Douglass Plan months ago as part of a regular update. However, we know we owe an explanation for how it came to be used to begin with. Using stock photos is standard practice across many campaigns.” The campaign also offered an apology for “its use and the confusion it created.”
The campaign also unveiled a large list of black South Carolina Democrats who backed the Douglass Plan — but some of those listed later reportedly said they’re supporting other Democrats seeking the presidential nomination.
Fox News’ Paul Steinhauser and Adam Shaw contributed to this report.