By Michael Mottern
On the first day of early voting for the general election, AOC came to downtown Buffalo in Western New York to stir up up the base: the DSA/SDUSA base, that is! It was Saturday morning 10:30 am and as I was riding the bus, abiding by Covid restrictions, there was one thing on my mind – AOC’s 11 am talk and the future of the Democratic Party and our democracy in America! And, when the time came, AOC gave a great speech and even danced on the stage. India Walton followed, but it was Luz Velez, a Latinx organizer from one of the city’s poor and disenfranchised areas who got the biggest applause. But the problem was while everybody in the crowd came for AOC, most of them did not live in Buffalo.
Walking up the street along Buffalo’s Theater District, I got the sense that there were just as many suburban people at the rally as there were registered voters in the entire city. In Erie County, New York, only registered voters in the city proper can vote in the Mayoral race, but in the suburbs and in the working-class areas of the city like the hip Elmwood Strip, Allen Street, Grant Street and the fruit belt we were all strong for India and change in the City of Buffalo. The rest of the city, alas, did not. In total, India got 41% of the city proper, gained support in pockets of the suburbs, and got support financially from both the Working Families party and national contributions across the country averaging over $50 for her small donors of Bernie Bucks enthusiasts and other small contributors.
Whenever Katie Couric came to town in the last few years, she has highlighted the revitalization of Buffalo and how good we’ve been doing compared to the 90s. This is the complete opposite of what the Guardian posted a week later, saying how naive her story was, completely overlooking the rest of the city and its poverty, highlighting several neighborhoods across the west side and east side of the city. At the current moment, Buffalo is probably the 4th poorest city in the nation and ranks in the Top 10 in underemployment for African American youth, but some of this constituencyhas been frightened away from India by scare tactics in the corporate media. While she won the working-class areas of the city, she did poorly in the more affluent parts of the city like North Buffalo and Millionaires Row along Delaware Avenue and in the central area of the city, where voters showed up in big numbers for the four-term incumbent Byron Brown as a write-in candidate. If you look at a map published by for the Buffalo News after India’s general election results, Millionaires Row (North and South Delaware Avenue) was completely for Brown, surrounded by India territory.
In the end, the Brown campaign vastly outspent the Walton campaign. India’s campaign made no mistakes and was very powerful on the ground but was hurt by the absence of support from the state Democratic establishment, smear campaigns and red-baiting. Walton stuck to the issues while Brown avoided them. During my stint as a pollwatcher, a Brown supporter who was also a Trump supporter screamed, “You voted for Biden! You voted for Biden!” I told the Buffalo News that I pointed to Brown’s people, most of them Democrats, and said, “So did they!”
There is no question that some of us India supporters expected to win because, after all, who loses to a write-in candidate?! That pain doesn’t go away so fast. And that’s a reason why I will never forget this race for as long as I live. But you know what? That’s a good thing! The fact that a African-American woman socialist got 41% in the mayoral race in Buffalo after defeating a machine hack in the Democratic primary really shook up the system! In other words, the Establishment was clearly s******* in their pants! And that’s also a good thing. Perhaps India Walton should run next for city council from a district where she did well against Brown. She would do a fantastic job and she’s already scored national attention.
We need to keep pushing because, as Luz Velez said at the rally, we are all organizers for justice.
Michael Mottern is First Vice Chair of Social Democrats USA.