By Patty Friend
The voters of Buffalo have just made history by electing, against all odds, its first Democratic Socialist as the Democratic mayoral nominee. India Walton is smart, capable, experienced and a serious caregiver with a well-lived life to inform her politics and her decisions.
India Walton grew up in the “Fruitbelt” neighborhood on Buffalo’s Eastside. She was responsible for her brothers and sisters, and helped her mother who was a single mother. At the age of 14, India herself became a single mom and five years later had twin boys with serious medical problems, making it necessary both for her to ride the city buses with her twins and their strollers and accoutrements, and to work with hospital and social services’ bureaucrats. Then, she had a fourth son in her twenties. In these years, she got her GED and went to nursing school, eventually becoming a registered nurse working at different local hospitals. On top of all this, she became a hard-charging activist who always impressed people with her intelligence, great ideas and presence.
As one of Buffalo’s premier community organizers, she was the natural choice to run against Mayor Byron Brown. True, she lacked the “connections in high places” or access to large amounts of money or wealthy donors, but she’s been a magnificent and victorious candidate nonetheless, upsetting a well-funded machine politician in her first campaign. Walton’s platform does an old Social Democrat’s heart good. It includes but is not limited to the following:
- Eliminating nepotism and other corrupt hiring practices in city government
- Ending the closing of budget gaps on the backs of the poor (ex: parking/motor vehicle fees/penalties, taxes)
- Extending public transportation
- Capping the 33 Expressway and bringing back the Humboldt Parkway
- Increasing civic involvement by marginalized communities
- Enhancing infrastructure user-friendliness for all Buffalonians rather than the wealthy few.
- Stopping tax abatements for wealthy developers and large companies
Running the city of Buffalo on this platform will be quite challenging. Buffalo is plagued with gentrification and a lack of affordable housing, a biased criminal justice system and police force. There are issues around the maintenance of public buildings and disposition of older public buildings, infrastructure needs and existing projects, tax collection, the aftermath of Covid-19, and Buffalo’s (in)famous winter snow. Community organizations will have great expectations of her administration; ‘old-timers’ in government may want to sabotage her efforts.
She may not have a lot of experience in electoral politics or in management/administration, but she is a quick study. She will need experienced advisers and lots of help from staff that she can trust, who will ‘have her back.’ Hopefully, she can either fire the ‘dead-weight’ employees loyal to Mayor Brown or get them to work on her behalf. It’s precisely her not being from the Old Guard that could enable her to come up with new ways to analyze problems and arrive at more creative solutions. As she said about herself to MSNBC’s Rev. Al Sharpton, she may not be the perfect candidate for mayor, but if we insist on perfection, we lose out on what a lot of talented and exciting people can do for us and the community.
She will make a good mayor of Buffalo, but there is still a General Election to win in November. Brown is launching a well-funded, hard-fought write-in campaign. Power doesn’t give up easily, and Mayor Brown and his cronies certainly won’t. Social Democrats USA has not only endorsed India Walton, but has pledged to contribute to her (as individuals) and work for her. Our members are already signed up to doorknock for her this summer and fall. I predict that our work will be extremely fulfilling and worth it. So good luck to India Walton – the next Mayor of Buffalo, New York – and good luck to us all!
Patty Friend is the National Chair of Social Democrats USA.