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While much national media attention was directed to the New York City mayoral race, a major upset was brewing in upstate New York. According to unofficial results reported by WIVB, India Walton — a nurse, single mother, and democratic socialist — has defeated the four-term incumbent, Mayor Byron Brown.
As Walton enters the general election with no Republican opponent, her victory over Brown appears likely to, essentially, make her the first socialist to be elected mayor of a major U.S. city since Frank Zeider of Milwaukee left office in 1960. Walton has made history in another way too: She’ll likely be the first woman to be elected mayor of Buffalo. Her election comes amid a wave of victories for progressives at the local level following nationwide protests for Black lives in the summer of 2020.
During Walton's victory speech on election night, she made it clear that this movement is still picking up steam. “This victory is ours,” Walton told a crowd of excited supporters. “It is the first of many. If you are in an elected office right now, you are being put on notice. We are coming.”
According to an Associated Press story, Walton earned her GED while pregnant with twins; she went on to work as a nurse and union organizer, as the Intercept reported. Walton continued her career as a community organizer, and most recently as the executive director of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, where she has advocated for housing justice and fought gentrification.
“India became a mother at 14 and ended up raising four sons while working as a registered nurse,” Maya Handa, the deputy director of Mobilization for the New York Working Families Party, tells Teen Vogue. “Her grit and resilience — and the fact that, like so many in Buffalo, she has struggled to pay her rent — built trust with voters who no longer expect City Hall to fight for working people.”
Walton had a strong lead in early voting headed into Election Day, according to WGRZ. That momentum held as in-person votes from Election Day came in. Now, with all early and in-person votes reported, Walton leads by 1,507 votes. According to Spectrum News, a little more than 1,500 absentee ballots have been returned so far but are not yet counted. Brown has yet to concede, as the Buffalo News reported.
Walton’s campaign included a coalition of progressive groups, with national support from the Working Families Party, the Democratic Socialists of America, and Our Revolution. At the local level, Walton was endorsed by Buffalo DSA, the Buffalo Teachers Federation, and the Challenger Community News, which describes itself on Twitter as “Buffalo’s premiere African-American newspaper.”
“This victory is the result of a powerful, grassroots, people-powered, women-led, proudly socialist campaign,” Steven Jackson, the treasurer and electoral workgroup chair of Buffalo DSA, tells Teen Vogue. “The people of Buffalo have had enough, and this victory would not have been possible without the effort of everybody who mobilized and did the hard, good work.”
“India demonstrates the strength of a movement that centers the needs of everyday people,” Charlie Blaettler, elections director for the New York Working Families Party, said in an interview. “This is only the beginning. The Working Families Party is committed to working with India and candidates like her to build the power needed to make government deliver for working people.”
Walton was also supported by Martin Gugino, a 75-year-old local activist who was shoved by two Buffalo PD officers, sustaining severe injuries as a result, in an altercation that gained national attention during the 2020 protests. Gugino wrote in an op-ed for the Buffalo News that current mayor Brown had “given the Buffalo police free rein to brutalize members of our community.”
The grassroots energy behind Walton was evident to Blaettler, who tells Teen Vogue, “She prove[d] that when united, working-class people can organize to defeat billionaires and real estate developers.”
“Buffalo is now on the bleeding edge of a new political awakening in America,” Buffalo DSA co-chair Andre Mayes tells Teen Vogue. “We’ve decided that an economy focused on the people is what we want moving forward”.
Walton’s victory is part of a larger, yearslong national trend of electoral victories for progressive candidates. From St. Louis to Pittsburgh, many are demanding accountability and justice after protests last summer against police brutality. In the past several years and across the country, democratic socialists like Walton have been succeeding at the ballot box. Whether it’s the DSA members in Congress, Democratic Socialist Caucus on Chicago City Council, the dozens of victories in 2020 elections, or more recent local victories in San Antonio and Milwaukee, every level of politics is seeing candidates like Walton succeed.
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: What Is Democratic Socialism and Why Is It Growing More Popular in the U.S.?
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue