In a stunning upset Tuesday night, political newcomer India
Walton appeared to be on track to defeat longtime incumbent Byron Brown in the Democratic primary
. Backed by the Democratic Socialists of America
and the Working Families Party
, Walton appeared to be on track to defeat Buffalo's four-term mayor and a close ally of New York
Gov. Andrew Cuomo
With all precincts counted, Walton declared victory with a 1,507-vote lead, a 7-point margin in a low-turnout primary race where only about 21,000 votes
were cast. Brown did not concede during brief remarks at his election
night rally, instead relying on outstanding absentee ballots to close the gap. Only 1,536 absentee ballots were returned on Tuesday.
If Walton maintains her lead and Brown does not run an independent campaign this fall, she will be the first female mayor of Buffalo, as well as the first socialist — and the first socialist mayor of a major city in half a century. There is no Republican
candidate for the fall election, and President Joe Biden
received nearly 80% of Buffalo's vote in last year's presidential election.
“Mommy, I’m the mayor of Buffalo, well, not until January, but yeah!” Walton said in a phone call to her mother Tuesday night, which The Buffalo News
captured on video.
Following the police killing of George Floyd
, Buffalo, like many other cities, was roiled by racial justice
protests last year. It drew national attention when two Buffalo police officers knocked 75-year-old peace activist Martin Gugino to the ground while clearing a protest outside Buffalo City Hall, leaving Gugino in the hospital
for a month.
Walton has made police accountability the focal point of her campaign, telling The Appeal that she is running because Brown is “doing nothing to advance the quality of life for poor and brown people
and hold police accountable.”
Brown did describe the officers' actions in the Gugino case as "horrific," and he did implement some policy changes last year, though they were criticized as insufficient by local advocates for police reform
. Last year, some activists disrupted his State of the City address over a lack of action to combat police brutality
Walton, who was born on Buffalo's predominantly Black
East Side, dropped out of high school
at the age of 14 and began working as a nurse
in the Buffalo Public Schools
before becoming involved in the local SEIU union and founding an affordable housing
group that rehabilitated vacant homes for low-income residents.
She ran on a left-wing platform in one of the country's most segregated cities, which also has the third-highest child poverty
rate. Walton promised a tenant's bill of rights, as well as a heavy investment in social services and shifting police away from homelessness
and mental health
Brown, Buffalo's first Black mayor, was running for a record fifth term and was heavily favored to win. Firmly entrenched in the city's political machine, he had the backing of other local Democratic politicians
, powerful business
interests, The Buffalo News, and dozens of unions
. Walton raised far less money
than Brown, but she did have the backing of the powerful Buffalo Teachers Union and The Buffalo News.
Reporting was contributed by Amanda Terkel.