The left’s hope for a progressive mayor in New York City may be vanishing, as Eric Adams took an early lead on Tuesday evening. In Buffalo, however, the story is very different. There, socialist and union member India Walton is on the verge of stunning incumbent Byron Brown in the city’s Democratic primary. The New York Times reports that Walton led Brown by seven points as of midnight on Tuesday, and she has declared victory, though Brown refuses to concede. Should Walton’s lead hold, and should she win November’s general election — a very likely outcome, considering Buffalo’s deep-blue tilt — she’ll make history on two counts. She will be Buffalo’s first female mayor, and the first socialist to lead a major American city since Frank Zeidler, who was Milwaukee’s mayor from 1948 to 1960.
Walton’s probable victory invokes an often-forgotten aspect of American history. In Milwaukee, mayoral “sewer socialism” concentrated on public-works projects — parks, infrastructure, social centers, and the like. The idea was to create a more livable city for everyone, not just a wealthy few.
Walton ran on a similar platform. “We envision a Buffalo where people are housed, healthy, and have the agency to live to their full potential,” her website reads. Detailed housing policies include a land-use policy “that sets aside 50% of city-owned vacant parcels for public good” and a “pot of funds” to “assist homeowners who have fallen behind on their property taxes due to an unexpected hardship.” Walton’s campaign is also notable for its attention to policing reform. Last June, the Buffalo police department generated unflattering national headlines when officers violently shoved a 75-year-old protester, Martin Gugino, to the ground; in video of the incident, Gugino can be seen lying on the ground, bleeding from the head. After the department suspended the officers involved, all 57 members of the city’s riot-response squad resigned in protest.
Fittingly, Walton called for a reduced police presence in public life, and has pledged to remove police from “most” mental-health calls. She also called for tougher civilian oversight of the city police department, which is facing a lawsuit alleging systematic racial discrimination in traffic ticketing.
Walton isn’t the only likely victory the left has to celebrate in western New York. In Rochester, a candidate backed by the Working Families Party defeated incumbent Lovely Warren. City Councilman Malik Evans led Warren definitively on Tuesday night, and Warren conceded. (Though Evans doesn’t identify as a socialist, he and Walton share the endorsement of the WFP. The Democratic Socialists of America also endorsed Walton, and its active Buffalo chapter campaigned for her.) The left has yet to conquer Gracie Mansion, but elsewhere, it’s about to write new chapters of history.