SOUTH BEND — For Pete’s sake, what’s happening? Why are Bernie Sanders and President Trump attacking the mayor of South Bend?
     
Why did right-wing conspiracy activists fake that the mayor assaulted a college student? Why is his signature achievement of fixing up or tearing down 1,000 vacant and deteriorating old houses in 1,000 days portrayed as a failure because it didn’t eliminate crime, wipe out poverty and cure cancer?
     
Easy answer: Because South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg has come out of nowhere — national political types regard South Bend as nowhere — to become a top-tier contender for the Democratic nomination for president.
     
OK, he’s a star in the major leagues in his rookie season. But that doesn’t mean he will win the World Series. It’s a long season in baseball. The presidential selection season is even longer.
     
So, why did the Sanders campaign attack Mayor Pete for likening Sanders to Trump?
   
Actually, Buttigieg never said that Sanders, like Trump, is a stubborn promiser of the impossible. Nothing like that. He just said both appealed in 2016 to voters wanting to blow up the establishment, though the two had radically different philosophies. While the Sanders campaign knows that’s true about many ’16 voters, the remark provided an opening to hit Buttigieg, a rival for some of the younger voters that Bernie wants to keep as his own.
     
President Trump now confirms that Buttigieg is for real on the national scene by ridiculing him in tweets and speeches. Trump raised the prospect of a President Pete “representing us against President Xi of China” and added: “That’d be great.” Gee, do you suppose he was being sarcastic?
     
And then the president compared Buttigieg to Alfred E. Neuman, the adolescent, gap-toothed cartoon figure in Mad magazine. Buttigieg quipped in a Jimmy Fallon interview that he at least inspired Trump “to make a literary reference.” Gee, do you suppose he was being sarcastic?
     
Then there’s the right-wing conspiracy activists putting out a fake story that Buttigieg sexually assaulted a Michigan college student. The student they sought to recruit went public to expose their effort. He had never even met Buttigieg.
     
Still, the day the scam was reported, I overheard a loud conversation in a restaurant in which one participant proclaimed the news that the mayor now faced an assault charge. Fake news can work even when exposed as fake.
     
The revisionist history of the once-saluted fix-up-or-knock-down campaign to deal with the old, deteriorating and vacant housing stock in the city comes about in part because the national news media doesn’t want to portray Buttigieg as “Mr. Perfect Mayor.” They shouldn’t. Not even President Trump is perfect. It’s the job of the news media to probe, to seek a complete and accurate story about any serious presidential contender.
     
Not everybody liked that a lot of those old homes, a surplus of eyesores from back when housing was needed in a city of 130,000, were cleared out. Some were owners still clinging to horrible places for habitation in hope of future profit. Critics, whether for that reason or others more reasonable, relished national news media attention.
     
But it is a blessing that houses no longer needed and dangerous — drug houses, gang sanctuaries and eyesores causing neighborhood values to plummet — are fixed up or gone.
     
Were mistakes made? You think? Over 1,000 decisions. However, was the program a failure because the city still has crime, still has poverty, still has need for affordable housing? Curing all of that never was the promise for the program. Maybe it should have cured cancer.
     
There is, however, one problem Mayor Pete cannot escape. The age issue. Is he too old to be president? The 37-year-old mayor is 34 years younger than the current president. 

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.