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India Walton Could Be Buffalo's First Socialist Mayor
Working Families Party

India Walton Could Be Buffalo's First Socialist Mayor

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 for mayor of Buffalo. 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 in Minneapolis, 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 calls.

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.

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