India Walton made national headlines when she won last month’s Democratic primary against incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, who has held the office since 2006. This is no small feat, given Brown’s strong ties to the real estate and financial interests that run Buffalo behind the scenes — but that alone isn’t what’s creating all the buzz. She owes that to being a self-described socialist.
Walton, a 39-year-old former 1199 Service Employees Union nurse and a union representative, has spent recent years in the employment of progressive nonprofit organizations. These include the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust (of which she was the founding executive director), established to bring about community ownership in a historic Black neighborhood in Buffalo, and Slow Roll, a bike-transit advocacy organization.
The latter organization provided volunteers to help manage traffic and take up other roles during the Black Lives Matter demonstrations last summer following the murder of George Floyd. Karen Huffman, a legal observer, was injured when deliberately struck by a truck during a protest in September 2020.
Walton took a prominent position at last year’s protests, where she demonstrated her prowess as an orator. She has been an activist since the age of 12, when she protested alongside her mother at demonstrations against the punitive Rockefeller Drug Laws organized by Families Against Mandatory Minimums.
She has used her soap box to demand reforms like the passage of Cariol’s Law, which was signed into law last October, requiring cops to intervene in the instance of another cop using excessive force — as the law’s namesake, former cop Cariol Horne, was fired for doing. Walton has decried larger systemic evils like colonialism and exploitation. Even before she began her campaign in earnest, she attracted a following of progressives.
But is she a socialist? She replied to that question herself promptly enough in the interview that got her coverage in virtually every national corporate media outlet, and she accepted the endorsements from the local Democratic Socialists of America chapter, Senator Bernie Sanders and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
Her platform — consisting of well-considered, progressive reforms as it is — doesn’t emphasize building working-class power. Socialism isn’t mentioned at all on her campaign website, and it did not figure very heavily in her campaign until after the primary.
Opponents stoop to red-baiting
Walton will run in the general election this November unopposed — except for a write-in campaign by sitting Mayor Brown. He only announced he would be pursuing reelection well after Walton began her run.
Brown ran sterile public relations events with corporate sponsors as opposed to Walton’s direct community engagement. He ducked Walton’s repeated challenges to debate, and he was portrayed by a prominent local political cartoonist as being chicken.
Carl Paladino — billionaire developer, Trump booster, one-time New York State gubernatorial candidate and disgraced former school board member — announced that he would be conducting a write-in campaign if Brown conceded, shortly after Walton’s win and weeks before Brown officially announced that he would be pursuing a write-in campaign himself.
Paladino vowed to “destroy [Walton’s] campaign” and said “Buffalo needs real leadership. Socialism doesn’t work.” Brown issued a statement clarifying that he “is not seeking and will not seek” Paladino’s support for the write-in campaign, though in effect Brown has merely let Paladino do the red-baiting for him. (Spectrumlocalnews.com, June 25)
The deed of rankling reactionary voters in Buffalo is already done, and Brown has doubled down by running as a “law-and-order” candidate.
It seems unlikely that a write-in campaign would succeed, but Walton’s supporters are sleeping with one eye open. While perhaps not a socialist in the true sense of the word, Walton is certainly very progressive relative to Brown and has yet to be touched by the normalized political corruption so common in Buffalo and other U.S. cities.
Her platform consists of modest but positive reforms, and her activist and community ties suggest she could be pushed to do more. All this to say that her election victory would not be an unwelcome development.