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India Walton speaking at a rally.

Former healthcare worker and community organizer India Walton is running for mayor of Buffalo, New York after winning the Democratic primary in June. (Photo: Carmen Paul Cibella Studios)

In Buffalo, Progressive India Walton Fights Off 'Sore Loser' Democratic Mayor and GOP Allies

Legal battle heats up as India Walton fights Mayor Byron Brown and corporate allies who created a new political party after missing the filing deadline for the general election.

Julia Conley

India Walton, the self-identified democratic socialist who won a primary challenge for Buffalo mayor earlier this year by defeating the four-term Democratic incumbent Byron Brown, celebrated a state appellate court's ruling Wednesday which has put on hold—at least for now—an effort by Brown and his corporate allies to put him back on the ballot in the general election under a new party they created after he lost to Walton in the primary.
 
"This is clearly a wise decision," Walton said in a statement late Wednesday after the Fourth Judicial Department issued a stay on last week's ruling, which would have allowed Brown to run representing the so-called "Buffalo Party."
 
"If everyday Buffalonians are late on rent, parking fees, or school assignments, they face consequences. There is no reason the rules should not apply to my GOP-backed opponent as well," Walton added.
 

"I return to the mantra of Senator Bernie Sanders: the way to win against organized money is with organized people. So we continue to organize."
—India Walton

As Common Dreams reported in June, Brown and his supporters were stunned when Walton, a democratic socialist, won the primary. A former nurse and longtime affordable housing advocate in the city, Walton has campaigned on issues including immigrants' rights, police and public safety reform, climate action, and strengthening protections for tenants. Walton's victory over the four-term mayor, a longtime ally of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo who has called her an "inexperienced, radical socialist," drew national attention.
 
Brown soon made clear that he was not prepared to accept the election results, gathering support for his "Buffalo Party" from Republicans including powerful real estate developers.
 
The mayor missed the May 25 filing deadline by several months. He filed a lawsuit arguing that the deadline, which was established earlier this year by the state legislature, was unconstitutional. In federal court, three Brown supporters filed a separate lawsuit claiming the deadline "violates their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments."
 
In an interview with Jacobin on Wednesday, Walton called the mayor a "sore loser" who "did not work to earn the votes of Buffalo residents":
 
His record over the past sixteen years shows that he doesn't have much care, compassion, or empathy for the people of Buffalo, unless they’re wealthy developers or heads of large corporations.
 
We’re looking at unprecedented child poverty, a looming affordable housing crisis and housing crisis—not only of affordable units, but we have one of the widest racial wealth and homeownership gaps in the country—and some of the worst health outcomes, like a childhood lead problem that is comparable to Flint, Michigan. That is the legacy that this man leaves behind. And he won't move on so that someone who has a bold and visionary plan to improve our city can begin the process of governance.
 
In both court cases, the Republican judges ruled in Brown's favor, allowing him to appear on the ballot. In the latter case, Walton denounced U.S. District Court Judge John Sinatra's financial ties to the mayor, calling the ruling "a travesty and a mockery of justice."
 
As the Walton campaign told Common Dreams, Sinatra faced calls to recuse himself from the case due to his past donations to Brown as well as thousands of dollars his brother has donated to the mayor.
 
"We saw that a lot of people were very upset and outraged by these Republican decisions, especially in the federal case," Jesse Myerson, director of communications for the Walton campaign, told Common Dreams on Wednesday, adding that Sinatra "has himself donated seven times to various Brown campaigns" while his brother is "a very prominent downtown real estate developer with long-standing and deep ties to Byron Brown."
 
Following the ruling late last week, Walton called Sinatra "the farthest thing from an impartial judge."
 
Constituents have also voiced anger over Brown's attempt to circumvent the voters' will and the Board of Elections' deadline.
 
"Should I be delinquent in paying a parking fine, I will remember to tell the parking enforcement judge that paying an increased fine for being delinquent on a parking ticket is as unconstitutional as having to abide by an election deadline," one voter said at a hearing of the Board of Elections on Tuesday.
 

"There was a lot of backlash to what is a patently unfair decision to have two sets of rules where Byron Brown doesn't have to play by the rules that everybody else has to play by," said Myerson about the public hearing. "And I think that will inspire more people to get involved."
 
With Walton's appeal of Sinatra's ruling still pending and the appellate court's Wednesday decision only temporary, the campaign—as election ballots must be filed by the end of this week—is hoping for "very precipitous action to stay the orders of the Republican judges," Myerson said.
 
Regardless of whether Brown's name ultimately ends up on the ballot on November 2, Walton's campaign plans to continue engaging with voters in Buffalo in order to represent the interests of working people over those of the corporate class.
 
"Certainly, the urgency is greater if he's on the ballot, but I don't think the strategy changes very much," Myerson told Common Dreams. "The strategy has always been what won the primary for her, which is talking directly with voters on their doors and on the phones, and by mail and advertisements about the issues that are most important to them, and highlighting her bold vision and viable solutions to the challenges that Buffalo faces."
 
The campaign has seen an increase in small-dollar donations and interest in grassroots volunteering since the rulings were announced last week.
 
"I return to the mantra of Senator Bernie Sanders: the way to win against organized money is with organized people," Walton told Jacobin. "So we continue to organize."

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