Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be transportation secretary reacts to his nomination as Biden looks on during a news conference at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, Dec. 16, 2020.
Former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, President-elect Joe Biden's nominee to be transportation secretary reacts to his nomination as Biden looks on during a news conference at The Queen theater in Wilmington, Delaware, Dec. 16, 2020.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden officially nominated Pete Buttigieg, one of his former rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination, for transportation chief in his new administration on Wednesday, calling him “a policy wonk with a big heart.”

Biden declared that Buttigieg, 38, the openly gay former mayor of the Midwestern city of South Bend, Indiana, would be at the forefront of helping rebuild the country’s aging transportation infrastructure.

“Pete’s got the perspective of a mayor that solves problems and brings people together,” Biden said from his presidential transition hub in Wilmington, Delaware. “He’s got the vision of a next-generation leader with the experience and temperament to lead the charge today, to dig us out of this economic crisis” wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

The president-elect, set to be inaugurated in five weeks, promised his administration would help cities “build more climate-resilient communities to deal with more extreme floods, droughts and superstorms,” while installing 500,000 charging stations for electric vehicles, building “smart grid systems that reduce energy consumption” and establishing “a clean-energy economy.”

Biden said his nomination of a gay man to his Cabinet was the ninth “precedent-busting appointment” to the top echelon of his administration after already naming more women and people of color than any previous president-elect.

Buttigieg took note of the moment, saying he was “mindful that the eyes of history are on this appointment — knowing this is the first time an American president has ever sent an openly LGBTQ Cabinet nominee to the Senate for confirmation.”

He said he could remember when he was 17 and uncertain about his own sexual identity, watching the news as an ambassador appointed by former President Bill Clinton was denied a confirmation vote in the Senate because he was gay.

“So, two decades later,” Buttigieg said, “I can’t help but think of a 17-year-old who might be watching right now, someone who wonders whether and where they belong in the world, or even in their own family, and I’m thinking about the message today’s announcement is sending to them.”

Buttigieg was a surprise contender in the Democratic presidential race last year. He was the first openly gay major party candidate to win convention delegates in a bid for the White House.     

But Buttigieg’s campaign eventually stalled, and he dropped out of the race before the Democratic Party primaries in early March, and later endorsed Biden.    

FILE - Former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg endorses former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden at Chicken Scratch in Dallas, Texas, March 2, 2020.

Biden has compared Buttigieg to his late son, Beau.    

"To me, it's the highest compliment I can give any man or woman. And like Beau, he has a backbone like a ramrod," Biden said of Buttigieg.    

Buttigieg has been married to his husband, Chasten, since 2018.      

As transportation chief, Buttigieg would help oversee the country’s highway system, planes, trains and mass transit systems.     

Biden has pledged to spend billions of dollars to make major infrastructure improvements, part of the new president’s effort to boost the economy.