India Walton is not afraid to challenge the status quo. She defeated four-term Democratic incumbent Byron Brown in Buffalo’s mayoral primary on Tuesday. Walton, a democratic socialist who has never held political office, is now on track to become the first woman to lead New York’s second-largest city.
According to reports, Walton was the underdog in the race compared to the incumbent, Brown. Her campaign was backed by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party while Brown’s was supported by the centrist Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Although Brown was contending the results of the elections, AP reports that Walton won by 7% of the votes “after it became clear that there weren’t enough absentee ballots for Brown to overcome Walton’s lead.”
“This victory is ours. It is the first of many,” Walton said, adding: “If you are in an elected office right now, you are being put on notice: we are coming.”
“Mommy, I won!” Walton told her mother over the phone in another instance. “Mommy, I’m the mayor of Buffalo – well not ’til January, but yeah!”
With no Republican contesting for the seat in the deep-blue city and independent candidates struggling to get their names on the ballot sheets, Walton could be the first self-declared socialist to lead a major U.S. city in decades. The last time this happened was in 1960, according to The New York Times.
“I’m just excited to be a part of this movement that is ushering progressive politics into Buffalo,” she told reporters when asked if she identifies as a socialist. “Being the third-poorest mid-sized city in this country, we should be considering how we begin to eradicate concentrated poverty and disadvantage, and Democratic socialist leanings are a big step in getting us there.”
The 38-year-old socialist activist was born in Buffalo’s east side and became a working mom at 14. “I became a mother at 14,” the victorious candidate tweeted on Wednesday. “The majority of my campaign’s leadership team is working mothers. People like us often get told we don’t belong in politics.”
The union representative was pregnant while earning her GED and had her twins after high school. She studied nursing, earning her degree from SUNY Erie, and went on to work in the same hospital where her twins were born.
Politically active since the age of 12, she became a union representative for 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East while she was working as a nurse. She eventually left nursing to become a community organizer for Open Buffalo, where she pushed for criminal justice reform and fair housing. She also participated in the Black Lives Matter protests after George Floyd’s death.
She plans on reinforcing “public safety”, focusing on harm prevention, restorative justice, and the root causes of crime instead of punitive action, according to her campaign platform.
“I plan to put our resources into the community, into neighborhoods, and govern in a deeply democratic way, that the people who are governed have a say over the decision-making process and how resources are deployed in our community,” Walton said.
“We are looking forward to doing things differently, and I am so excited that we are ushering a new era of progressive leadership in Buffalo, NY,” she added.