Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton made history in the Democratic primaries in June when she defeated long-serving incumbent Mayor Byron Brown. For a while, it looked like Walton was on the verge of becoming the first Black person, woman and openly socialist candidate to lead New York’s second-most populous city. Those hopes were dashed on Tuesday, Nov. 2 when Walton was defeated by Brown, who mounted a successful write-in campaign in the general election.
A nurse who overcame teen motherhood and grew up in poverty, Walton epitomizes resilience. She directed her policy agenda at helping Buffalo’s working-class, the Intelligencer reported.
Now Walton, 39, her supporters, fellow progressives, and some political pundits who watched the race unfold are calling foul on how Brown achieved his victory. They accuse Brown and the Democratic establishment of railroading Walton by being more willing to make alliances with racist, sexist Republicans than support the nominee city party members voted for.
“Think of all we had to overcome. The New York State Republican Party leadership went all-in against us, and many high-profile Democrats declined even to defend us against them,” Walton said in a statement about the election results on Nov. 3. “Millions of dollars came pouring in to finance attack ads, personal smears, and racist, sexist fear-mongering. Every dirty trick in the book was tried against us, from draining our resources in legal fees, to playing flagrant lies on a loop, to Republican poll inspectors pre-stamping ballots.”
“The hostility and aggression against us were ugly and relentless, in the streets, in the press, and on social media,” Walton continued. “We knew that would be the case. When you take on the corrupt and powerful, you can’t expect them to play fair.”
While some centrist Democrats dismissed the accusations as “sour grapes,” there are people outside of Walton’s immediate camp that agree with her.
“When you pull a stunt like this, somebody wins a primary, a working-class woman, and you go to every rich donor in both parties to fund a write-in campaign … it’s a disgrace,” said Larry Cohen, chair of the Bernie Sanders-aligned group Our Revolution, Politico reported.
Instead of conceding after his primary loss, Brown allied himself with Republicans and overt supporters of former President Donald Trump, including real estate developer Carl Paladino, who’s come under fire for racist remarks in the past, according to The New Republic.
In December 2016, Paladino said he’d like to see Michelle Obama “return to being a male and let loose in the outback of Zimbabwe where she lives comfortably in a cave with Maxie, the gorilla.”
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In June, Brown said he “did not seek, nor will accept in any form” Paladino’s support, but he reversed course for his write-in campaign. He also received an infusion of cash from other Republican donors who believed his attack ads. Fact-checkers have deemed many of Brown’s ads to include lies about India Walton.
Republican supporters weren’t the only ones working against Walton, according to those who watched the race closely. Though Walton was endorsed by New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, some established Democrats in her own state either endorsed her late in the election or outright refused to do so.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York State Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (who is Black and herself made history as the first woman to hold the position) both refused to endorse Walton.
“You’ve got the establishment Democratic Party trying to block the path forward for progressives, and it’s incredibly challenging and frustrating for the grassroots,” Joseph Geevarghese, Our Revolution’s executive director, told Politico.
New York’s Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs even compared Walton’s primary win to a scenario in which Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke was victorious.
“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. “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.”
The New Republic writer Raina Lipsitz said she believes Brown’s strategy to beat India Walton also cost Kimberly Beaty her race. Beaty would have been Erie County’s first Black woman to serve as sheriff.
Now some progressives, including Walton, are calling for Brown to be stripped of his position at the Democratic National Convention.
“Misleading headline. This isn’t about ‘payback.’ It’s about the future,” Walton tweeted. “To override Democratic voters, this man renounced the Dem Party in court, teamed up w NY GOP & raised $ from Trumpers If the DNC continues to honor him, what will the fallout be?”
“Imagine how hard it will be to convince voters to “vote blue no matter who” after this. It’s like @AOC said: this is playing a dangerous game with life-or-death politics,” Walton added.