As New Yorkers waited to see whether the results of Tuesday’s primary would shift Gotham politics even further to the left, an avowed socialist had won a huge upset victory in the Empire State’s second-largest city. With all the votes from the primaries and firsts counted, four-term Buffalo mayor Byron Brown appeared to have lost his Democratic primary candidacy to India Walton, a 38-year-old registered nurse and union activist who failed. has never held an elected position. Assuming insiders are correct in predicting that “postal votes are unlikely to affect the outcome”, as the Buffalo News reports, Walton will have no Republican opponent and will be elected in November.
Walton received a congratulatory call on election night from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose party line she enthusiastically supports. The alleged new mayor ran over a familiar array of progressive priorities framed in appealing populist terms, including a call to cut police funding by “remov[ing] police respond to most mental health calls. It also supports the vacancy study required by state law as a prerequisite for imposing rent controls, although current rents in Buffalo are not particularly high by regional standards. Walton wears his ideology up his sleeve: “Being the third poorest mid-sized city in this country, we should think about how we start to eradicate concentrated poverty and disadvantage,” she said in the evening. of the primaries. “And the democratic socialist tendencies are a big step in getting us there. “
Much like Ocasio-Cortez, Walton had little notoriety and was unlikely to win early on, or even in the days leading up to the vote. But like in the AOC Congressional Primary in Queens three years ago, turnout in the Buffalo race was ultra-low (just 29% of votes cast on the Democratic line in the presidential election last year), and the incumbent was an uninteresting figure who ran an overconfident campaign that was low-key to the point of being almost invisible. In the ultimate sign of a poorly conducted re-election effort, Brown will apparently step down with unspent money in his war chest. Walton, meanwhile, has reportedly raised a respectable $ 150,000 from leading progressives, including singer-songwriter Ani DiFranco, actress Cynthia Nixon and New York public attorney Jumaane Williams.
While Brown received support from the civic establishment, Walton – who proposed a “moratorium” on charter schools and a fixed minimum amount of budget support for the school district – was approved at the end of the campaign by the Buffalo Teachers Union. Having a friendly mayor who shapes the city’s annual budget proposal is obviously desirable for the union, although in Buffalo, unlike New York City, an independently elected board of education governs the city’s school district.
As for charter schools, Walton’s promise of a moratorium was pure posture. Outside of New York City, New York State charters are granted and renewed by State University and do not require approval from municipal authorities. And charter schools are a particularly popular alternative to Buffalo. The city has 20, with more than 1,750 students on their waiting lists for 2021-2022. Buffalo’s 11,000 charter school students consistently score higher on state achievement tests than the 30,000 attending Buffalo City School District schools, despite system spending of $ 21,573 per student in 2018-19, 62% more than the US average.
Buffalo has a traditional “strong mayor” system that combines patronage relief with operational oversight responsibilities, but rookie Walton executive will hardly be able to dictate wholesale policy changes. Dominant moderates dominate the Buffalo Common Council, which is made up of nine all-Democratic, all-male members, including President Darius G. Pridgen. And despite being Buffalo’s first female mayor, Walton won’t be the most powerful woman in town or even the holder of an African-American office. That honor will always belong to Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes, a pol veteran rooted in the same neighborhood political organization that launched Byron Brown’s career.
There is little reason to believe the result represents a tectonic shift towards progressivism in the Queen City. To be sure, Buffalo politics have shifted to the left since the heyday of conservative Democrats like the late Jimmy Griffin, the city’s mayor from 1978 to 1993. But the city remains a Democratic island in politically competitive Erie County, and its finances remain subject to a period of potentially renewed scrutiny by a state fiscal stability authority (created when the city appeared to be in danger of bankruptcy in 2003, though it has recently become complacent about the fiscal risks taken by Brown. ).
Nonetheless, Walton’s victory will have ripple effects beyond western New York, fueling fear among the state’s outgoing Democrats of urban progressive cadres with nothing to lose in low-rate primaries. participation. To avoid such challenges, even moderately inclined office holders have been willing to take more left-wing positions, as evidenced by the increasingly progressive votes and political positions of the Northern Democrats within the state legislature. Walton may not be able to bring the revolution to Buffalo, but his victory will strengthen this political tendency.
Photo by Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images