In her lifetime, India Walton has been a 14-year-old working mother, a nurse, a union representative and a socialist community organizer.
On Wednesday, she was on the cusp of yet another career change and a series of “firsts” after defeating a four-term incumbent in the Democratic primary race to become the mayor of Buffalo, New York state’s second largest city.
With no Republican challengers in the general election later this year, Walton is all but guaranteed to ascend to the mayoralty in solidly Democratic Buffalo.
She would not only become the city’s first female mayor but also the first self-declared socialist to lead a major US city in decades.
Walton would be the first socialist mayor of a major American city since 1960, when Frank Zeidler stepped down as Milwaukee’s mayor, the New York Times reported.
“This victory is ours. It is the first of many,” Walton said, adding: “If you are in an elected office right now, you are being put on notice: we are coming.”
Although the current Buffalo mayor, Byron Brown, did not immediately concede his bid for a fifth term, the Associated Press called the primary race for Walton on Wednesday “after it became clear that there weren’t enough absentee ballots for Brown to overcome Walton’s lead,” the wire service reported.
“Mommy, I won!” Walton told her mother over the phone. “Mommy, I’m the mayor of Buffalo – well not ’til January, but yeah!”
Walton’s platform outlines plans to tackle a local affordable housing crisis and declare Buffalo a sanctuary city for immigrants, which limits a local jurisdiction’s cooperation with federal enforcement o f immigration law. And also the intention to convert the city’s fleet of public vehicles to electric cars in an effort to address climate change.
One of her key proposals foreshadows sweeping reforms to “public safety”, focusing on harm prevention, restorative justice and the root causes of crime instead of punitive action, according to her campaign platform.
Under her watch, police will no longer respond to most mental health calls and will stop enforcing low-level drug possession offenses. She also intends to require unpaid leave for officers under investigation for police brutality, among other measures.
Last year, Buffalo police sparked outcry when two officers pushed 75-year-old Martin Gugino to the pavement during anti-racism protests, causing a severe head injury.
Walton also focus on economic development and food access in Buffalo by prioritizing local, minority and women-owned businesses for contracts, establishing a public bank and supporting community gardens, her website says.
“My plan is to put our resources into community, into neighborhoods, and govern in a deeply democratic way, that the people who are governed have a say over the decision-making process and how resources are deployed in our community,” Walton said.
“We are looking forward to doing things differently, and I am so excited that we are ushering a new era of progressive leadership in Buffalo, NY.”
In nearby Rochester, the third largest city in New York state, another incumbent mayor was ousted when city councilman Malik Evans easily overcame mayor Lovely Warren, whose administration has been rocked by scandal for months.
Warren was indicted on felony campaign finance charges and has been accused of bungling the Rochester police killing of Daniel Prude, a Black man last year who died after police tackled him to the ground during a mental health episode and put a hood over his head, in part by misleading the public about what she knew.