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India Walton stuns longtime incumbent in Buffalo mayoral primary.

A progressive challenger running her first campaign beat Buffalo’s four-term Democratic mayor in a primary upset on Tuesday that could upend the political landscape in New York’s second-biggest city and signal the strength of the party’s left wing.

The challenger, India B. Walton, is a nurse and community activist who ran with the support of the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party. When The Associated Press called the race Wednesday morning, Ms. Walton was leading Byron Brown, a longtime member of the Democratic establishment, by 7 percentage points, or about 1,500 votes, with all of the in-person ballots counted.

Should Ms. Walton, 38, triumph in the general election November — a likely result in heavily Democratic Buffalo — she would be the first female mayor in Buffalo’s history and the first socialist mayor of a major American city since 1960, when Frank P. Zeidler stepped down as Milwaukee’s mayor.

Her victory came decades after the country’s most prominent democratic socialist, Senator Bernie Sanders, served as mayor of Burlington, Vt. Mr. Sanders was mayor for eight years before he was elected to Congress and has run for president twice as a Democrat.

Ms. Walton celebrated her victory in a jubilant call to her mother that was captured on video, yelling, “Mommy, I won. Mommy, I’m the mayor of Buffalo. Well, not until January, but, yeah.”

Mr. Brown, who once led the state’s Democratic Party and is a close ally of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, declined to concede on Tuesday night despite the margin separating him from Ms. Walton.

“We’re going to make sure every single vote is counted,” he said. (Ms. Walton’s campaign estimated that there were about 1,500 absentee ballots outstanding.)

Ms. Walton showed no such hesitation in declaring victory, highlighting what she said were the race’s national ramifications. She said the stunning outcome would “resound here in Buffalo and throughout the nation, showing that a progressive platform that puts people over profit is both viable and necessary.”

“Tonight’s result proves that Buffalonians demand community-minded, people-focused government, and we’re ready to serve them,” Ms. Walton said in a statement. “For too long, we’ve seen our city work for politicians, for developers, for the police union, but not for ordinary working families. In our city, everyone will have a seat at the table.”

Ms. Walton has said her priorities as mayor would include adopting so-called sanctuary city rules to safeguard undocumented immigrants, introducing more robust protections for tenants and ending the role of police officers in most mental health emergency calls.

She has also criticized Mr. Brown’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and helped lead protests in the city last year over the police killing of George Floyd.

Mr. Brown, 62, did not campaign vigorously, according to his opponents, and he refused to debate Ms. Walton. He has appeared regularly with Mr. Cuomo at the governor’s news conferences in Western New York to promote the state’s economic reopening.

Ms. Walton, in turn, relied on an intense grass-roots organizing operation, a formidable fund-raising effort and backing from some of the governor’s most vocal foes, including the Working Families Party and Cynthia Nixon, who waged an unsuccessful primary campaign against Mr. Cuomo in 2018.


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