BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — One month after the contentious Buffalo mayoral race, 7 Eyewitness News sits down with former Buffalo mayoral candidate, India Walton, who went on to bring Buffalo into a national conversation about 'progressive politics.'
The Buffalo mayoral race results became certified on November 24.
It showed incumbent and write-in candidate Byron Brown beat India Walton, having received 59.6% of the votes in the general election, while India Walton received 40%.
Pheben Kassahun shares her conversation with Walton as she reflects on her campaign over the last year, and discusses what is next in her political career.
When asked about what she learned during the campaign, Walton shared she learned while on the campaign trail.
"Holy crap. We actually did it and all of the sacrifice, all of the tears, all of the tired, was worth it."
Oh my goodness. I have learned so much. I think the one thing that I learned is that I learned the power of people, the power of a network, the power of family and friends. It's just been an incredible and amazing experience,” former Buffalo mayoral candidate, India Walton said. "I learned that I am a lot stronger than I thought I was. I think there was something special about a person who is able to stand in their power and remain humble enough to still take the advice of others. I just learned that I am capable of so much more than I ever could have imagined.”
As she reflects on her nearly year-long campaign, India Walton recalled some of the highlights and moments of joy from her record-setting race for mayor of New York’s second largest city.
Walton announced her bid for Buffalo mayor in December 2020.
"I have to say the highlight of the campaign was primary night. Winning that primary, being the underdog, being the startup, being the insurgent, with an all volunteer team was remarkable. It was something that even my mother thought was impossible and the fact that we were able to pull that off was really a special moment,” Walton said.
In June, she stunned Buffalo and neighboring cities, having unseated 16-year incumbent, Mayor Byron Brown, presumably ending his chance of a holding a record 5-year term in the City of Buffalo.
In June, Walton stunned Buffalo and made national headlines by defeating four-term incumbent Byron Brown in the Democratic primary.
With Brown on no other lines, Walton self-proclaimed democratic socialist appeared to be Buffalo’s next mayor. That was, until Brown held a write-in campaign and eventually took back his seat.
Walton, “I fully expected the mayor to call me to concede and to kind of have a slow coast through the general election and have him mentor me and set me up for success. I honestly didn't think that there was going to be this write-in campaign and even then, I thought it was a long shot. So, we ran really hard up until the general election. I witnessed the ballot counting for myself, and people did write- they wrote in Byron Brown. I think that, you know, it was a huge challenge on his end too, but I knew from the moment he announced that if there was anyone that could pull it off, a person with 30+ years of political experience, of name recognition and the support of some big money will be able to achieve that and that's what happened, so I respect the will of the voters."
The results: 59.6% to 40%. Not enough to win, necessarily, but enough to shake things up in the city to start a new conversation. A conversation about progressive politics.
"I just want to say I'm proud of the work that we've done. To have successfully unseated a 16-year in the primary election and to go on and bring Buffalo into a national conversation about progressive politics and what is possible with true grassroots organizing. I'm proud of what we've done. Would I have liked to have been mayor? Sure. But I'm not and it doesn't mean all is lost. We've learned lots of lessons. We have met lots of people and we're going to continue to push forward from here,” Walton said.
First democratic socialist, Walton recalled experiencing a lot of hurt on the campaign trail.
"I feel like we ran a great campaign. We tried to stay positive and I only exercised my right to run for political office because I'm a democrat and I'm an American and this is the democracy. So, some of the nastiness and the name calling- there is definitely some restoration that is ultimately going to have to happen. I don't want people to be enemies in my city because of the way they feel about me or the way they feel about Byron Brown,” she said.
However, she adds that she felt remorseful for the way she handled some of the challenges.
“There were also lots of personal attacks and things that I feel were just not appropriate when thinking about politics. I would have preferred to talk about issues and policy and plans for the future. I personally experienced lots of people who were angry,” Walton said. “The parking ticket situation, some things that I said prior to becoming a candidate. I would maybe do those things different but I also believe that everything happens for a reason and had it not been for those things that make me very normal, very Buffalo-- that is an example of me as an individual experiencing a lot of the same things that my neighbors, my friends and family experience-- I don't think it would have been the same campaign.”
Moving forward, Walton said she wants her supporters to know she is far from done in regards.
"I think there are ways to accomplish that outside of the office of the Mayor by working with our common council members, by working with the office of administration to make sure that these ideas gain traction, to make sure that we are educating members of our community because 25,000 people do want affordable housing and want more affordable housing. They do want better equity and better jobs and more opportunities for economic growth for those who have been left behind,” she said.
Her message to her victorious opponent: ’Do what's best for Buffalo'.
“If that means that we need to work together, that we need to present a unified front, that we need to do the real work that is required heal our community. This has been a very contentious political season and I think that has raised a lot of conversations and questions that can't go unaddressed. I think my message would be, 'I'm here, and I am willing to work alongside and work hard and help him deliver for the people of Buffalo,” the Buffalo native said.
Walton shared she has not fully decided on whether she will run in the next four years.
"I think there's definitely a role for me in Buffalo whether that be in the office of mayor or just doing something else that is going to improve the life of Buffalonians. That's what I am interested in, whether that means if I'm in an elected position or just keeping the fight alive as an everyday citizen. I'm committed to that,” she said.
It should not go unnoticed that the buffalo native gained heavy support from people outside of buffalo, including notable politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
"Chuck Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand endorsed,” she added.
More recently, Walton received a letter from former President Barack Obama.
"My 12-year-old nonchalantly hands me an envelope and it's in an 8x11 envelope and I'm looking inside and I don't see anything, but it's a little card. It's a handwritten note and on the top it says, 'Barack Obama'. It just says thank you for running. It says not be discouraged and continue the good work. Of all of the things that have transpired over the last year- all of the challenges, all of the hurt, there were many, many moments of joy also and to know that a person that is as influential as President Obama noticed what we were doing right here in Buffalo means a lot. It means I didn't do anything wrong. It means I did something right,” she added.