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India Walton adds to staff and supporters; Byron Brown returns focus to write-in campaign

India Walton adds to staff and supporters; Byron Brown returns focus to write-in campaign

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India Walton

Buffalo mayoral candidate India Walton accepts the endorsement of Starbucks and Spot coffee employees who are attempting to organize into a union, as well as Workers United Upstate New York, during a news conference at HANSA Workspace in Buffalo on Friday. 

It was almost as though the switch flipped Monday to full-blown campaign mode in the contest for mayor of Buffalo.

India B. Walton seemed to provide the most electricity, introducing a new campaign manager, gaining support from County Legislature Chairwoman April N.M. Baskin and emphasizing her life experience to counter questions about her status as political rookie.

Mayor Byron W. Brown, meanwhile, began moving past his court-derailed plan to face Walton on a new, minor party line. After a federal appeals court last week ruled against Brown's effort to establish the Buffalo Party following loss of the Democratic line to Walton in the June primary, he is now pivoting to his original plan – competing as a write-in candidate only.

Election officials had recently noted that the mayor's "Write Down Byron Brown" campaign could cause problems if a voter wrote in for the same candidate appearing on a ballot line. But that conflict is eliminated with Brown limited to the write-in option.

Now the campaign says it will mount a significant education effort to inform voters of exact procedures of a successful write-in.

"The mayor is out there knocking on doors, there are canvassers and phone banks and they're talking directly to voters on how to cast a ballot for him on Nov. 2," campaign manager Conor Hurley said.

One source said the campaign is procuring "Byron Brown" stamps for voters to use to mark their ballots. 

Walton, meanwhile, injected a new aura of professional campaigning by naming a veteran of New York City politics to manage her effort.

“I am thrilled to welcome Drisana Hughes to Team India,” Walton, winner of the June Democratic primary, said Monday. “Her wealth of experience in Democratic campaigning, her deep understanding of political organizing and her shining intelligence are exactly what this campaign needs to win in November with a strong mandate to build the safe, healthy Buffalo we all need and deserve.”

Hughes served as deputy campaign manager for Alvin Bragg’s successful Democratic primary for Manhattan district attorney earlier this year, and as organizing director for the unsuccessful mayoral campaign of New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. In 2020, she was the Colorado Democratic Party's regional field director for Joe Biden's successful presidential effort. She has also worked as senior program director at Civics Unplugged, a nonpartisan program for high schoolers.

The campaign said Hughes’ new role is part of a broader reorganization in which several other staff members will assume new titles and responsibilities. The previous campaign managers were De'Jon Hall and Katrika Carr. Hall said Monday he has resigned as manager, but will remain with the campaign in policy and legal positions.

Later, at an East Side news conference, Walton introduced Baskin to address what Brown has consistently labeled as the Democratic nominee's "inexperience." The top legislative official in county government noted some criticized her own lack of a political past when she assumed her current post, but claimed success with "life experiences" that mirror Walton's.

"I had a wealth of experience when it came to understanding how to survive as a single parent," Baskin said, "living on public assistance, trying to navigate the system and start my own small business. This experience set the foundation for me that government is not just about creating policies; government ... is understanding the struggles that are in need of the multitudes.

"For those who continue to question her experience," she added, "I can honestly and confidently say India Walton has experience of what it's like to live in this city like us all."

Baskin, one of several local officials expected to break their neutral status in the race over the next few weeks, then made her case for a woman to serve as mayor for the first time in Buffalo history.

"I've only been elected for four years, but in four years time I've seen women do some really, really amazing work in local government," she said. "And I know it's going to take a woman to help Buffalo reach its potential."

Walton accepted Baskin's support as someone "on the same page," and "not too much removed from those of us who still struggle," in her continuing effort to paint Brown as a lifetime politician who cannot identify with working class people.

"We are going to prioritize families, we are going to reduce childhood poverty ... and make a case for a healthy Buffalo for all," she said.

She also anticipates no real change in her campaign strategy after Brown has reverted to his original post-primary plan of waging a write-in campaign.

"It didn't matter either way for us whether he was on the ballot or not," she said. "We're going to run our campaign."

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"We announced in August that we would be participating in one debate – one more than Byron Brown agreed to during the primary election – and we fulfilled that commitment earlier this month," Walton said in part of a statement.

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