The night before Quentin Suttles was sentenced to four years in prison on a gun possession charge, a party was held to send him off.
Walton picked up 505 absentee votes, while Brown had 1,002, according to the Erie County Board of Elections, which counted the absentees today.
Suttles' name was one of those evoked amid Black Lives Matter protests in Buffalo last year after video circulated on social media of him being punched by a Buffalo police officer during an arrest while he was out on the gun charge.
But it wasn't Suttles who got all the attention at his party Sunday night. Some of it went to his cousin India Walton.
Walton five days earlier had stunned Buffalo's political establishment and became a national figure when she defeated four-time incumbent Mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary.
Walton said she stopped by the party to show her support for a family member facing a difficult situation.
"My reputation in this community is one of helping and of care, OK? And I wanted to stop by to let his girlfriend know that she has support in the community and I wanted him to keep his head up and make the best use of the time that he has to sit, get some skills, stay out of trouble, and be prepared to come home and be great and take care of his family and his children," Walton told The Buffalo News.
Walton said she would have gone to the party regardless of what happened in the primary.
"These are people that I grew up with and my responsibility first is to my community, and that is where politics ends with me," she said.
Walton, whose victory has made her a hero of the progressive movement, has made it clear that she is no ordinary politician.
A self-proclaimed democratic socialist who vows to "put people first," she said her life – growing up poor on the East Side, being a single mother of four boys, being a nurse and a community organizer and having firsthand experience being arrested by Buffalo police – has prepared her for this moment as she faces a write-in campaign from an emboldened Brown in the general election on Nov. 2.
"I wasn't surprised. We planned for this. We knew that he wasn't going to go down quietly ...," she said.
As Brown officially announced his plans for the write-in effort, interest in Walton's past has grown. Walton, who has promised a transparent campaign and administration, answered a broad range of questions about her life in an interview with The News at her campaign office on Jefferson Avenue.
Pregnant in high school
Walton, whose maiden name is India Suttles, was born in Buffalo. She was one of six children being raised by her mother. She attended elementary school at the former Lincoln Academy on Broadway and later Loraine Elementary School in South Buffalo, and said she finished with a nearly perfect grade point average.
"I've always been intelligent, but oftentimes my smarts got the best of me," she said.
Walton said she was a freshman at Leonardo da Vinci High School when she got pregnant.
"It slowed me down. It saved my life. It made me a lot more thoughtful about the decisions that I was making because they affected someone who was completely dependent upon me and my success for their own life," Walton said.
Walton said she decided that she didn't want her or her baby to be a burden on her family, so she voluntarily moved into a home for teenage mothers at Our Lady of Victory.
"I was able to attend school and know that my child was well taken care of," Walton said.
She lived there for two years and then faced a decision: either go to school full time or drop out and work full time to support her child while getting a GED.
She opted for the latter.
She was working on that GED when she got pregnant by her now ex-husband. When she was 24 weeks pregnant with twins, she was in a car crash and went into premature labor, she said. Both of her babies weighed less than 2 pounds at birth and spent six months in the old Children's Hospital on Bryant Street.
But the experience as a mother of prematurely born children led to a life-changing decision for her: She said she received kindness and support, but at the same time saw how poor people of color can be treated differently in the health care system.
"I felt a lot of times like I was not a member of my child's care team, that decisions were made without consulting me or without fully explaining what was happening," she said.
"This has just been an unprecedented campaign like Buffalo has never seen before. I'm extremely proud," India Walton said Wednesday.
A trusted nurse told her that if she didn't like what she was experiencing, she should herself become a nurse.
Arrested at work
Walton enrolled in courses through BOCES to become a licensed practical nurse. When she completed that program, she took a job as a pediatric home care nurse and went back to school at Erie Community College to become a registered nurse with plans to work in Children's Hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. She was hired as an RN in January 2008.
But Walton said she resigned from the job following a series of tumultuous events around 2014.
"I was in the process of leaving my husband," she said.
Walton said she was being bullied on social media by co-workers at the hospital, one woman in particular.
"I told her that we are professionals and we're adults and if she wanted to have a conversation we should do it in person and not via social media," Walton said. A short time later, Walton took a leave of absence because she was going on disability for surgery, she said.
"When I came back to work, I found out that she had filed for an order of protection," Walton said.
The notification for Walton to appear in court on the matter had been mailed – unbeknownst to her – to her soon-to-be ex-husband's home, Walton said. A warrant was issued for her arrest for failing to show up.
Walton said she went to the human resources office at Children's Hospital.
"I was arrested. I was humiliated. I've never been arrested and I was put in a jail cell until I was able to see a judge later on that day," she said.
Buffalo police records show she was arrested June 27, 2014, on a warrant for a violation, second-degree harassment for physical contact. Walton denies touching the woman who accused her of the harassment.
The woman did not return a phone call from The News.
"I just wanted it to go away, so I took an adjournment in contemplation of dismissal and I went about my business," Walton said. Erie County records show no criminal convictions on her record.
Resigns from nursing
She then went to work as a nurse in the Buffalo Public Schools, which had a contract with Kaleida Health.
In 2017, Walton said she was on an approved family leave from the job to take care of one of her sons when she was invited to a conference about community organizing that was being held in Spain.
"So I called my sister and I asked her to look after my child while I went to Barcelona for three days for a professional development opportunity. Kind of a once-in-a-lifetime thing, right? Young girl who grew up on the East Side, and I get a chance to attend an international conference about how to make the place I live better and learn from some of the best in the field. I kind of didn't want to pass it up," she said.
When Kaleida officials learned about the trip, Walton said she was threatened with termination and a union representative suggested she resign, which Walton said she did.
She said leaving the job "felt like it was a blessing because it allowed me to pursue what I really wanted to do and that was work on policy and be able to impact my community at a broader scale."
Kaleida Health confirmed Walton worked for the network as a registered nurse, but a spokesman would not comment on the allegations.
Food stamp fraud alleged
In 2015, she heard about a new program offered by Open Buffalo, a nonprofit dedicated to social and economic justice issues called "Emerging Leaders" that taught people how to be community organizers. She applied and was accepted to the four-month program.
"It had huge impact on my life," Walton said.
She would go on to teach the class and then worked on criminal justice reform, police transparency and accountability and legalization of adult use of marijuana through Open Buffalo.
She also became involved in the Fruit Belt community and became the founding executive director of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust "to develop permanently affordable housing," according to her campaign website.
Walton faced some financial issues early in her life. Erie County records show she was accused of food stamp fraud in 2004 and paid back $295, and a $749 state tax lien was placed on her and her ex-husband in 2008, as first reported Tuesday by WKBW.
Walton said that in the past, she prepared her taxes herself because she couldn't afford an accountant.
"At age 22 I made an honest mistake filing my taxes that resulted in a penalty that I promptly paid off. Additionally, when I was receiving food stamps, I was overpaid and had my wages garnished to pay back the difference," she said.
“If there wasn’t a challenge, I would be disappointed,” said Council President Darius G. Pridgen.
She added that those are the kind of financial issues many people in Buffalo face all the time.
"We understand just how expensive it can be to be poor in this country. I ran for mayor to make it easier for working people to get by and so that residents of Buffalo don’t have to struggle like I did," Walton said.
The campaign ahead
Walton knows the next four months will not be easy, but she knows she has support.
Monday, after Brown's announcement about his write-in effort, her campaign raised close to $40,000 in new donations from around the country.
Tuesday afternoon, a crowd approaching about 100 people gathered at a rally in Niagara Square, right in front of City Hall. "India! India! India!" they chanted.
"I think that our campaign slogan – "Real, resilient and ready" – these things that are coming out that are meant to be used against me, it's proof that I am real," she said. "I am definitely resilient, and I am ready. I'm prepared to take on the challenges that the majority of Buffalonians are facing, and I'm not going to back down, I'm not going to cower and I'm not ashamed. These are conversations that more of us should be having."
News staff reporter Patrick Lakamp contributed to this article.