SOUTH BEND – This is a tale of two cities. Of two South Bends. And of how the contrast might be portrayed by a guy named Charles Dickens, famous for something. Was it as a legendary county Democratic chairman from long ago?

The contrasting descriptions of South Bend do make it seem like two different cities. It was the best of times since Studebaker folded. It was the worst of times for crime and racial turmoil.

It was the age of wisdom – smart streets, smart sewers, enlightened leadership by Mayor Pete. It was the age of foolishness – spending on a beautiful downtown and parks, when so many neighborhoods aren’t so pretty.

It was the epoch of belief, with so many buying into the rallying cry of Mayor Pete: “South Bend is back!” It was the epoch of incredulity, with critics scoffing at claims of progress and telling of a terrible place.

When Mayor Pete Buttigieg began his long, long long-shot campaign for president earlier this year, he was a salesman for the South Bend, telling at every appearance around the country and on national television that the city, described not so long ago as “dying,” had a new optimistic outlook, finally recovering from decades of doldrums after Studebaker, with economic development, more jobs and decent housing and population gain. The Chamber of Commerce couldn’t have afforded such positive publicity.

Mayor Pete also was selling his candidacy, with startling success. Now, he isn’t that much of a long shot. While he’s not leading in any national polls, Buttigieg is a top-tier candidate for the Democratic nomination. He’s ahead in some polls for that first test with voters in the Iowa caucuses. So, his tale of South Bend success is under scrutiny by the national news media – to be expected for any serious presidential candidate – and under attack by competitors for the Democratic nomination.

Buttigieg backers, knowing how important it is to capture more of the black vote in South Carolina and elsewhere, are unhappy with comments by two of the most quoted black critics of the mayor, outgoing Council Members Oliver Davis and Regina Williams-Preston, as contributing to a negative tale of the city. They note that both were trounced in seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in the primary, not even carrying their own districts.

Thus, a group of black leaders, including some who fared well in the election, including Council Member Karen White, top vote-getter among council candidates in winning re-election, met to tell of a more positive image of South Bend and its mayor.

That’s when some protesters, unhappy with a positive tale of the city, when there is of course racial tension still lingering from a dispute over police tapes and a shooting that remains under investigation, disrupted the meeting, promoting a tale of a divided city.

Some of the protesters were identified as supporting Bernie Sanders. Bernie, however certainly didn’t direct a white protester to grab the microphone from a black woman, an elected council member.

What’s the story? Real black leaders speaking out with a positive tale? Or proof that Mayor Pete has a real problem with blacks in his own city?

Not all the tales are of disputing by political figures. Business Insider looked at other figures, data of how South Bend did under Buttigieg in comparison with other cities of similar size. Great in comparison with lower unemployment, better than the median income percentage gain, but poorly in reducing the housing vacancy rate despite fixing up or tearing down 1,000 vacant and deteriorating houses in 1,000 days.

A tale of two cities? Two South Bends? The best of times? The worst of times? Or is it really one city, with a lot of progress and still with a lot of problems? 

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