India Walton, a political newcomer and self-described socialist, appeared to claim an upset victory over longtime Buffalo mayor Byron Brown in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, setting her up to become the city’s first female mayor and the nation’s first socialist mayor in six decades.
Walton has secured 52% of in-person votes, compared to Brown’s 45% in the unofficial election night tally from the Erie County Board of Elections. Walton’s lead of approximately 1,500 votes is about equal to the number of absentee ballots left to be counted, making it highly unlikely Brown could mount a comeback. However, Brown refused to concede until all absentee ballots were counted.
The Democratic primary essentially decides the city’s mayor’s race, as Republicans will not field a candidate this November.
In a victory speech surrounded by supporters at Poize bar on Niagara Street, Walton said her win puts establishment Democrats in the city on notice.
“This victory is ours,” she said. “If you are in an elected office right now, you are being put on notice. We are coming.”
Walton would become the first female and woman of color to serve as mayor in Buffalo’s history. She’d also be the first socialist mayor of a major U.S. city since Milwaukee’s Frank Zeidler, who served until 1960.
Walton, 38, is a registered nurse, community organizer and was most recently the executive director of the Fruit Belt Community Land trust. She has been visible at police brutality protests, particularly over the last year following the death of George Floyd.
She waged a grassroots campaign against Brown, a four-term incumbent who refused debates and shied away from large-scale campaign events.
“Today is only the beginning. From the very start. I said this is not about making India Walton Mayor buffalo. This is about building the infrastructure to challenge every damn thing.”
Speaking to reporters Tuesday night, Walton was asked why she believed voters turned to her after 16 years with Brown.
“Though we’ve seen progress in certain areas, the majority of us haven’t enjoyed what’s being called the renaissance,” she said. “I think that now is a time when people are standing up and saying that we’re not going to take this lying down. The status quo is not enough and people just want change.”
Buffalo has remained one of the poorest U.S. cities throughout Brown’s tenure, with a current poverty rate of about 30%.
When asked by a reporter if she’s a socialist, Walton responded, “Oh, absolutely.”
“The entire intent of this campaign is to draw down power and resources to the ground level and the hands of the people,” she continued. “And when we think about socialism, we’re perfectly fine with socialism for the rich. We will bail out Wall Street and banks and give a billion dollars in tax incentives to one of the richest people in the world (Elon Musk) to build an empty Tesla factory in South Buffalo. And when it comes to providing the resources that working families need to thrive, socialism becomes scary at that point. So I’m very proud to be a Democratic Socialist.”
Walton said she received a call Tuesday from perhaps the country’s most well-known Democratic Socialist lawmaker, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The New York representative tweeted about Walton’s likely victory Tuesday night.
At the end of Tuesday night, Walton stood outside with her sons, taking in the moment. Walton said her team plans to hit the ground running come next year.
“It's been 16 years and though we've seen progress in certain areas, there are a lot of people the majority of us have not enjoyed in what has been called the Renaissance. I think that now was a time where people are standing up and saying that we're not going to take this lying down. The status quo is not enough. And people just want change.”
Despite Brown declining to concede, the local Democratic party acknowledged Walton’s likely victory. Erie County Democratic Party Chair Jeremy Zellner said in a statement that he is looking forward to assisting Walton “as she embarks on a new administration and new era for the city of Buffalo