Buffalo mayor declares write-in victory over socialist who beat him in Democratic primary

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Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown speaks to the media after filling out his ballot on Oct. 23.
Buffalo, N.Y., Mayor Byron Brown speaks to the media after filling out his ballot on Oct. 23. (Joshua Bessex/AP)

Buffalo, N.Y., Mayor Byron Brown declared victory in his write-in campaign to retain his seat, saying he had defeated Democratic nominee and socialist India Walton.

“Today’s election was not just a referendum on the direction of the city of Buffalo, it was a referendum on the future of our democracy and our vision for our future,” he said late Tuesday night.

Brown turned to a write-in campaign after losing the June primary to Walton. With a majority of the vote counted, “write-ins” held a double-digit lead in the race. While absentee votes need to be counted and write-in votes confirmed to be for Brown, the four-term incumbent celebrated the apparent victory, while Walton said all write-ins need to be counted and that she was not conceding.

Walton’s upset in the June primary was a shock in New York’s second-largest city; she defeated Brown by 4 points after he refused to debate her and essentially ignored her candidacy. A Buffalo native and registered nurse who became a mother at age 14, she had not run for office before.

Walton, 39, was involved in housing activism in the city as well as last year’s Black Lives Matter protests. Republicans did not field a candidate in the overwhelmingly Democratic city.

A member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Walton ran to become the first woman to be mayor of Buffalo and the first socialist to lead a major American city in decades.

India Walton, candidate for Buffalo, N.Y., mayor, holds a campaign event the day before the election.
India Walton at a campaign event in Buffalo on Monday. (Lindsay DeDario/Reuters)

Brown, 63, a former state senator, was first elected mayor in 2005. The first Black mayor in the city’s history, he is a moderate, pro-business executive who also served as co-chair of the state Democratic Party. He spent the general election campaign painting Walton as a dangerous radical who was too far left for the city’s residents.

As part of its effort, the Brown campaign spent tens of thousands of dollars on ink stamps so that voters would spell his name correctly on the write-in line. He received the support of the New York state Republican Party, which sent mailers to thousands of voters urging them to write in Brown’s name.

“The mailers went to a broad universe of voters who we believe will vote to stop socialism in the city of Buffalo,” said state GOP spokeswoman Jessica Proud. Nick Langworthy, the New York Republican chair, congratulated Brown on the apparent victory.

Walton’s victory in the primary splintered Democratic power brokers in the Empire State. She was endorsed by both of the state’s U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, as well as prominent progressive Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman. However, following her win, the Buffalo Common Council voted to explore the idea of getting rid of the position of mayor altogether.

The state party never rallied behind her, with Gov. Kathy Hochul declining to endorse and state Democratic chairman Jay Jacobs drawing criticism last month for comparing Walton to former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard David Duke in an interview.

“Let’s take a scenario, very different, where David Duke — you remember him, the grand wizard of the KKK — he moves to New York, he becomes a Democrat, he runs for mayor in the city of Rochester, which is a low primary turnout, and he wins the Democratic line,” Jacobs said in an interview with Spectrum News.

“I have to endorse David Duke? I don’t think so. Now, of course, India Walton is not in the same category. But it just leads you to that question: Is it a must? It’s not a must.”

Schumer called the statement “totally unacceptable, and the analogy used was outrageous and beyond absurd,” while Bowman was among those who called on Jacobs to resign, calling his comments the “malignant narcissism of far too many white men.”

After initially refusing to apologize and defending his comments, Jacobs relented but reiterated that “not every candidate who wins a primary is entitled, unquestionably, to the endorsement of all party leaders or elected officials.”


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