Who is India Walton? Socialist poised to become first female mayor of Buffalo
A political newcomer and self-professed socialist appeared to claim an upset victory over longtime Buffalo mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary on Tuesday. India Walton is poised to become the city's first female mayor and the nation's first socialist mayor in six decades.
Walton won 52 percent of in-person votes compared to Brown's 45 percent, per the unofficial election night tally from the Erie County Board of Elections. Her lead of about 1,500 votes is reportedly about equal to the number of absentee ballots left to be counted. This would make it highly unlikely for Brown to make a comeback, but the incumbent mayor refused to concede until all absentee ballots were counted. It's worth noting that the Democratic primary essentially decides the city's mayoral race, considering Republicans will not be fielding a candidate this November, WBFO reported.
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Surrounded by supporters at Poize bar on Niagara Street, Walton declared that her victory put establishment Democrats in Buffalo on notice. “This victory is ours,” she said. “If you are in an elected office right now, you are being put on notice. We are coming.”
Furthermore, Walton is set to become the first female and woman of color to serve as mayor in Buffalo's history. Meanwhile, she would also be the first socialist mayor of a major US city since Milwaukee’s Frank Zeidler, who served until 1960, according to WBFO.
38-year-old Walton is a registered nurse, community organizer, and recently held the post of executive director for the Fruit Belt Community Land trust. That said, she has been spotted at anti-police brutality protests since the Memorial Day death of George Floyd last year.
I said what I said.#MadamMayor pic.twitter.com/JVvXmZoynR— India Walton (@Indiawaltonbflo) June 23, 2021
Walton secured her victory after launching a grassroots campaign against Brown, a four-term incumbent who refused to debate her or hold large-scale campaign events. “Today is only the beginning. From the very start. I said this is not about making India Walton Mayor buffalo. This is about building the infrastructure to challenge every damn thing," Walton told her supporters.
She was asked Tuesday night why she believed voters chose her after 16 years with Brown. “Though we’ve seen progress in certain areas, the majority of us haven’t enjoyed what’s being called the renaissance,” she said. “I think that now is a time when people are standing up and saying that we’re not going to take this lying down. The status quo is not enough and people just want change.”
It's important to note that throughout Brown's tenure, Buffalo has remained one of the poorest US cities with a current poverty rate of about 30%. Walton, when asked by a reporter if she identified as a socialist, responded, “Oh, absolutely.”
“The entire intent of this campaign is to draw down power and resources to the ground level and the hands of the people,” she continued. “And when we think about socialism, we’re perfectly fine with socialism for the rich. We will bail out Wall Street and banks and give a billion dollars in tax incentives to one of the richest people in the world (Elon Musk) to build an empty Tesla factory in South Buffalo. And when it comes to providing the resources that working families need to thrive, socialism becomes scary at that point. So I’m very proud to be a Democratic Socialist.”
Walton said she received a congratulatory call on Tuesday from fellow Democratic socialist, New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spoke of Walton's likely victory Tuesday night.
Walton told reporters Tuesday night that her team plans to hit the ground running come next year. “It's been 16 years and though we've seen progress in certain areas, there are a lot of people the majority of us have not enjoyed in what has been called the Renaissance," she said. "I think that now was a time where people are standing up and saying that we're not going to take this lying down. The status quo is not enough. And people just want change.”
While Mayor Brown is yet to concede, the local Democratic party has already acknowledged Walton’s likely victory. Erie County Democratic Party Chair Jeremy Zellner said in a statement that he would gladly assist Walton “as she embarks on a new administration and new era for the city of Buffalo," WBFO reported.