What happened to party discipline, oh wait, we’re Democrats. Apparently India Walton was not ready for red-baiting Democrats supported by a GOP not really interested in bipartisanship.
When India Walton beat Byron Brown, a deeply complacent four-term incumbent, in Buffalo’s Democratic mayoral primary in June, she came closer than any woman ever has to running the second-largest city in New York. Hers was an inspiring story: Local girl makes good; achieves stunning political upset; brings national, non-blizzard-related attention to her often-overlooked hometown. And she ran the way Democrats have been encouraging first-time candidates to run for years. “If you’re disappointed by your elected officials,” former President Barack Obama said in 2017, “grab a clip board, get some signatures, and run for office yourself.”
Because Buffalo is a deep-blue city, the winner of the Democratic mayoral primary has for decades been elected mayor in the general. Given that Brown was running what appeared at first to be a long-shot write-in campaign to retain his incumbency, many assumed Walton would be next in line. But a funny thing happened on the way to the mayor’s office: Top Democrats, led by Brown, decided that stomping a socialist upstart like Walton was more important than supporting the Democratic ticket—so much so that they were willing to collaborate with Republicans to kneecap their own nominees.
That plan, which involved infusions of cash from wealthy Republican donors, worked. Brown defeated Walton in the general election. But she wasn’t the only casualty. Kim Beaty, the Democratic nominee for Erie County sheriff, will likely narrowly lose to Republican nominee John Garcia, who carried every city and town in the county except for Amherst, Buffalo, and the town of Tonawanda. He currently has 46.5 percent of the vote to Beaty’s 43.9 percent. Given that around 19,000 absentee ballots were requested, that race remains too close to call.
Now that Brown’s reelection appears all but certain, some Democratic lawmakers in Buffalo who stayed on the sidelines during the campaign are speaking out against Brown’s alignment with the GOP. Prominent Republicans donated to Brown’s campaign and the New York Republican State Committee sent mailers on his behalf.
“Brown didn’t need help from some of Donald Trump’s most hardline supporters to beat India Walton but he took it anyway … calling Brown a good Democrat after he just empowered some of Trump’s closest allies is offensive,” Assembly Member Patrick Burke, who did not endorse either candidate, told City & State in a text message.
State Sen. Sean Ryan, who supported Walton’s campaign, said in an email to City & State that “it’s not unreasonable to think that running a GOP-backed campaign against a Democrat might have consequences for a member of the DNC … especially when his biggest donors are Republicans.”
Those surveying the aftermath of the election say the party has been shaken to its core by the unlikely turn of events, with one elected official describing the situation as “a touchy subject in Buffalo these days.”
The warring Democratic factions are both pointing fingers – a theme that has been playing out nationally between progressives and moderates.
“I think what we may be likely to see is what we see oftentimes when either party or party factions are unable to win,” University of Buffalo associate professor of political science Jabob Neiheisel told City & State.