1. Buffalo is the second largest city in New York — behind only New York City.
2. Buffalo is on the verge of electing the first socialist mayor of a major US city since 1960.
India Walton, a self proclaimed democratic socialist, is the candidate who could make that history on Tuesday as Buffalo voters head to the polls to decide who they want running their city for the next four years.
Walton already appeared to all-but-win the job over the summer when she beat four-term incumbent Byron Brown in a Democratic primary.
Normally, that would ensure Walton a victory in the fall general election given the city’s clear Democratic tilt. But Brown refused go away quietly. He first tried to get his name added to the general election ballot as an independent. Then, when that effort failed, he announced that he would run as a write-in candidate this fall — adopting the slogan “Write Down Byron Brown.”
“The stakes are dire and extreme if she was to get elected,” Brown told CNN last month. “She would take our city horribly back. She would compromise our public safety. She would raise our taxes. She would attack other elected officials up and down the ballot. It would be a nightmare for every person in our community.”
The fight in Buffalo mirrors the broader fight within the Democratic Party playing out in the Empire State and nationally.
In New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has established a moderate record during her time in Congress and in her stint as lieutenant governor. The entrance of state Attorney General Letitia James into the gubernatorial primary last week means that Democratic voters in the state will be forced to choose between a more centrist and more liberal worldview.
Nationally, the party’s ideological divide is on full display as liberals and moderates vie for control of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda in Congress.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin struck the latest blow on Monday, demanding that liberals in the House pass the President’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure package without any guarantees about whether he will ultimately support the $1.75 trillion social safety net measure being pushed by progressives. “It is time to vote on the (bipartisan infrastructure) bill, up or down,” said Manchin. “Holding this bill hostage is not going to work in getting my support for the reconciliation bill.”
Manchin’s statement was met with resistance from the likes of Missouri Rep. Cori Bush, one of the leading liberals in Congress. “Joe Manchin’s opposition to the Build Back Better Act is anti-Black, anti-child, anti-woman, and anti-immigrant,” Bush said in a statement.
“Joe Manchin does not get to dictate the future of our country.”
The current standoff between moderates and liberals echoes the dominant dynamic of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary where then former Vice President Joe Biden defeated liberal Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont) for the party’s nod.
While liberals have scored some recent victories — Bush’s defeat of Rep. Lacy Clay being one of the most prominent — Sanders’ defeat against Biden as well as the primary victory of moderate Eric Adams in the New York City’s mayoral race has raised questions within the party about liberals’ ability to win high-profile elections.
Walton represents the best chance for progressives to push back on that narrative. And, if she beats Brown (again) on Tuesday night, she will become the first socialist mayor of a major city since Frank Zeidler, who left office as mayor of Milwaukee in 1960.