India Walton's apparent victory over incumbent Byron W. Brown in Tuesday's primary came as no surprise to the candidate herself.
Likely unseating a four-term incumbent, Walton said she believes it happened because Buffalo's economic "renaissance" in recent years hasn't reached everyone.
"It's been 16 years, and though we've seen progress in certain areas, there are a lot of people, the majority of us have not enjoyed in what is being called 'the renaissance,'" Walton said. "I think that now is a time where people are standing up and saying that we're not going to take this lying down. The status quo is not enough and people just want change."
Walton shocked four-term incumbent Byron W. Brown in Tuesday's Democratic primary for mayor in what may rank as the most historic upset in the city's political history.
Walton says her top issue right now is community violence, which she said is on the uptick because young people in Buffalo are not given options and opportunities across the board.
“Work, recreation, our community centers are still shuttered. There’s just not enough resources for folks," she said.
“There are so many people out there that don’t even have ID, don’t even know where to start. ID, driver’s license, GED, how do we get people the basics so we can create other job opportunities for them. Nothing stops a bullet better than a good job,” she said.
Walton said she would bring in a national organization, Advance Peace, based in Richmond, California, that runs a data-driven, violence interruption program aimed at reducing gun violence in urban neighborhoods across the country.
The difference between Advance Peace and anti-violence group Buffalo Peacemakers, which she describes as “basically a civilian police force,” is that Advance Peace is not connected to law enforcement. And Advance Peace provides financial incentives.
“They’re not the police. If we are saying that we're already having a problem with community police relations, people don’t trust the police, more police is not going to help,” she said. “What Advance Peace does is bring in people who are not affiliated in any way with the police, so you don’t have to fear retribution or punishment. They work with people. You get a life map, which is how you navigate getting out to the situation that you’re in, whether that be a license, GED, job. For every milestone you meet on your life map you get a financial incentive.”
Walton said she’s also excited about the prospect of neighborhood community development and planning and “really engaging people.” As a community organizer and advocate, she has the experience.
She worked with the Community First Alliance, a coalition of 19 organizations both inside and outside the Fruit Belt, to achieve a parking permit system in 2016, authorized by the state, that sets aside half of the on-street parking for residents in the neighborhood that borders the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus. The legislation came after workers at the growing campus began monopolizing the free parking spots.
Walton then became executive director of the land trust that was created in 2017 to ensure residents – not outsiders and elected officials – control the vacant city land near the campus.
“I know that when you get into neighborhoods and say, ‘Hey, this is your money; tell me how we’re going to spend it to improve your neighborhood.’ That’s how you get people civically engaged… when they see you coming to them on the ground, in their block club, in their community center and mapping out the neighborhood,” she said. “We didn’t do it in a vacuum. We had dozens of public meetings. We put maps all over the walls. People were able to vote on what they wanted and that is how we set the vision and the tone for what we were going to do. I’m excited about bringing that opportunity to all neighborhoods in Buffalo and creating truly mixed-income, high quality amenity neighborhoods where everybody can thrive.”
Walton also said she "absolutely" favors term limits.
"I think that 16 years is just far too long for one person to be in office," she said, referring to Brown's four terms as mayor. "In order to make progress, we need fresh ideas. I don't subscribe to the notion of moving up through the ranks. A lot of people said, 'Well why don't you run for school board or why don't you run for Common Council? It's not what I want to do. Nor do I want a seat warmer in a position where they're waiting to get to somewhere else. I want people in position who are going to do the best job that they possibly can where they are because they want to be there and want to create change for our people."
Outside Poize Restaurant and Lounge on Tuesday night, a scene full of jubilant supporters, Walton said becoming mayor would offer her a better opportunity to improve affordable housing options in the city than she had as an activist.
"We can have a comprehensive land disposition policy that prioritizes neighborhoods, that picks the city up off of holding all of the property they're holding onto that's not being put to productive use," she said.
"We're going to find flexible financing and grants so that people can purchase homes at below market value and put them back on tax rolls, fix them up and live with them. We know that when people have opportunities to own where they live, crime naturally goes down, the neighborhood, the quality of life is improved, and that is what I look forward to doing as mayor."
While working as a nurse, she said she saw large disparities between city schools. Schools like International Preparatory School, which has an extremely diverse student population, shouldn't have the same funding as schools like City Honors or the Olmsted School, which she said "don't have the same needs."
"I am interested in making sure that we provide equity for high-needs populations," Walton said.
India Walton calls her mother on the night of the elections to tell her she won the Democratic primary June 22, 2021.