Wednesday, June 23, 2021

A Buffalo Socialist in the Heart of America

In a significant upset, self-described socialist candidate India Walton has dethroned incumbent Buffalo mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary, which makes her almost a shoo-in for the mayor's seat next election. The victory would make Walton the first socialist mayor of a major American city in sixty years.

Occurring on the same election day where Eric Adams looks likely to win the Democratic primary for mayor of New York City, this will certainly spark some chatter about where the future of left-wing politics lies in America. Upstate New York -- the old rust belt -- is a Democratic Socialist's fantasy of where they most want to be competitive, but historically haven't made much inroads compared to their success in upscale, wealthy areas like suburban Maryland. The dissonance between where they were winning and where their ideology says they should be winning was taking a toll, so this probably feels really good for them. It does mean the rest of us probably need to brace for another flurry of "socialist policies can win in the heartland" takes -- but listen, as skeptical as I remain, the one thing which can give that old tune new life is actually winning elections. So they've earned the right to drop another nickel into the jukebox.

In more immediate terms, I know virtually nothing about Walton, or Brown, or Buffalo. But in my uninformed opinion -- and what is the internet for if not uninformed opinions? -- Buffalo is the perfect place to try out a socialist as a mayor. It's a big enough city that one actually has to govern it and engage with diverse stakeholders rather than just grandstand, and it's far enough from the glare of national attention that Walton should be able to do her job more or less as a normal mayor without constant spotlight. That isn't to say she won't face opposition or pushback from various constituencies and power-brokers -- that's part of local politics, and navigating those shoals is part of what it means to be a success at local politics. But it's a good test case. Laboratories of democracy and all that.

So congratulations to Ms. Walton -- I look forward to seeing what you accomplish in your tenure!

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