India Walton, a nurse and progressive activist, upset four-term incumbent Byron Brown in Tuesday’s Democratic primary in Buffalo, N.Y., in a bid to become the first socialist mayor of a major American city since 1960.
Walton, who would also become the first female mayor elected in Buffalo, must still win in the November general election — though the last time the city elected a Republican to lead it was during the presidency of John F. Kennedy. There is currently no Republican seeking the office.
While absentee votes have not yet been counted, the Associated Press declared Walton the winner in the race against Brown. She currently holds a lead of 7 percentage points, with 52 percent of the vote to Brown’s 45. Brown has so far refused to concede defeat, however, until “each and every vote is counted.”
Walton was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, the Working Families Party and People’s Action. Challenging Brown, who had the advantages of both incumbency and fundraising, she emphasized the need for change and new leadership.
“Folks are ready for change,” Walton said in an interview earlier this month, according to Politico. “The mayor’s been in office for 16 years, and we have not seen significant improvements in many of our communities, especially those that are primarily occupied by Black people and brown people and poor people."
In her victory speech, Walton said the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is gaining momentum in the state. “We set out to not only change Buffalo but to change the way progressive politics are viewed in upstate New York,” she said.
“Today is only the beginning,” she continued. “This is about building the infrastructure to challenge every damn seat — I’m talking about committee seats, school board, common council. All that we are doing is claiming what is rightfully ours. We are the workers, we do the work. We deserve a government that works with and for us.”
Walton has promised she will sign a tenants’ bill of rights that would institute rent control and create a tenant advocate; remove police from responding to most mental health calls and establish a new response to mental health calls; and declare Buffalo a sanctuary city that would safeguard undocumented immigrants, all in her first 100 days in office. Her long-term goals include increasing city funding for public schools and expanding neighborhood community development.
In a Wednesday interview with Buffalo’s WGRZ following her victory, Walton emphasized how her platform as a democratic socialist differs from that of a traditional Democrat. “That means we put people first, that means we prioritize the working class, the marginalized, the often unseen, unheard people over profits, corporations and developers,” she said.
She went on to emphasize that she does not consider herself a politician, and that what the people need is someone who understands “the challenges that average people face.”
The last socialist politician to serve as the mayor of a big U.S. city was Frank Zeidler, who was elected to lead Milwaukee in 1948 and served until 1960.
Walton, who used a vigorous grassroots campaign to fundraise, has also promised to incorporate the citizens of Buffalo into her mayoral term. “We are going to co-govern. We are doing this together. In the beginning, I said I’m taking all of my people with me, and that is exactly what I intend to do,” she said.
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