India Walton agreed to meet me at Hansa, the bustling year-old coworking space in downtown Buffalo, N.Y., where her campaign office is located. Once a warehouse used to store truck parts, the 32,000-square-foot, two-story, glass-and-brick building is now bright, airy, and filled with green plants and eager young professionals. A few minutes after I arrived, Walton returned from a previous engagement; her phone pressed to her ear. A 39-year-old Black woman with a youthful face and close-cropped hair, she wore a striking deep-green dress with silver-and-gold summer sandals.
When I opened the door for her, she mouthed “Thanks” without interrupting her conversation, which seemed to have something to do with Erie County Democratic Committee Chair Jeremy Zellner. “You think I want to go sit in Jeremy Zellner’s space?” Walton asked, frowning into her phone. “This has the ability to have impact on people,” she added sternly, “so we’ve got to put the other stuff aside and do the work.”
She kept speaking as a staffer ushered us up a flight of stairs and into a large room with a desk and several tables. Walton sat at the desk, and after a few minutes, she hung up and greeted me.
A nurse, community organizer, former executive director of a community land trust, and democratic socialist, Walton stunned the political establishment by beating four-term incumbent Byron Brown in Buffalo’s Democratic mayoral primary in June. Brown, a onetime ally of former New York governor Andrew Cuomo, was heavily favored to win. Brown became Buffalo’s first Black mayor in 2006. If Walton prevails in the general election, she will be the city’s first woman mayor and the first socialist mayor of a sizable US city since 1960.
Zellner—who backed Brown in the primary and serves as both chair of the Erie County Democratic Committee and a county board of elections commissioner, which many see as a conflict of interest—prevented Walton from running on the Working Families Party line in November on a technicality. (In New York State, candidates can run on multiple ballot lines at once. Walton had hoped to run on both the Democratic and WFP lines in November.) After she won the primary, Zellner switched his allegiance to Walton, waffled, and then officially endorsed her in late August. Until recently, it was Brown who had the slimmest path to victory: Without a ballot line, he was mounting a long-shot write-in campaign, and because the local GOP didn’t bother to field a mayoral candidate, Walton’s was expected to be the only name on the ballot.