Can the Socialist Mayor Rise Again?

Walton believes Buffalo deserves better than it’s gotten. Not through billions poured into empty revitalization or a tech hub, but by investing in housing, health care, and community. These are simple planks, but they anchor the campaign. People seem to get it. She was in the middle of talking to me about home being “a place for families,” while also “dispelling the myth that a family is mom, dad, and kids,” when a woman in a minivan stopped traffic to shout her support (“I’m votin’ for you, India! I got my family, too! I see you!”); Walton smiled and waved and shouted, “Thank you,” before picking back up: “A family is me and all of my friends, and my neighbors are my family, and Buffalo is my family,” she tells me. “We deserve community and to have leadership that is going to be rooted in the values of care and love. I think it’s something that’s becoming more and more attractive to people because we have been isolated for so long, right?” At least, that’s what she’s betting on come Tuesday.

The three hours I spent with Walton on a Monday afternoon in early June were pretty standard for a campaign profile: I drove in from out of town to meet her, walk around and see Buffalo through her eyes, and capture a day in her campaign. But it was quieter than usual: no handlers, no campaign staff running interference, cutting off or reframing her answers.

Her campaign is small, lean by both necessity and desire. Its institutional structure and knowledge has been provided by the Working Families Party, a political apparatus with deep roots in New York with an ideological bent that’s left of the state’s Democratic Party (though it often works with state centrists). The party was so enthusiastic about Walton, they not only abandoned Byron Brown for the first time in his lengthy political career, they’ve effectively run her insurgent campaign.

Brown resembles a lot of Democratic politicians across the state: a slim record of major achievements but a slow drip of failure when it comes to the values the party is supposed to represent. Even before the pandemic, Buffalo’s poverty rate was more than twice the national average, with residents on its largely Black East Side suffering higher rates of fatal illness and infant mortality. Brown was a target of continued protest over the Buffalo Police Department’s Strike Force, which came under investigation by the New York attorney general for brutalizing Black and brown Buffalo residents. His grand plan to revitalize Buffalo’s crown jewel of a waterfront was to install a massive Bass Pro Sports; the company pulled out after nine years of deliberations, much to the relief of local community activists who came together to make the waterfront the flourishing city attraction it is today.

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