Thursday, October 28, 2021

A Buffalo Socialist in the Heart of America, Part II

The Washington Monthly has a good, short profile up on India Walton, the self-described socialist who is the Democratic nominee for Mayor of Buffalo. Walton earned that spot by upsetting the incumbent, Byron Brown, in the Democratic primary. While initially this made it look as if Walton would be a shoo-in for the general, Brown has waged a furious fight to keep his seat via a write-in campaign, and at least one poll has him with a sizeable lead.

While I have no particular dog in this hunt, I actually think it would be unfortunate if Brown prevails. This might surprise some of you, as I'm not especially oriented towards self-described socialist candidates. Partially, I'm of the view that, absent really strong reasons to the contrary, as a Democratic voter I'm going to support the Democratic nominee. But the larger reason is that, as I wrote back when Walton first won the primary, Buffalo actually seems like a really good candidate for experimenting with some of the socialist policies that Walton is putting forward, and seeing whether these ideas can be put into practice in an actual American city under "live fire" conditions. Buffalo is small enough so Walton won't constantly be under the national media microscope unless she deliberately seeks out the spotlight, yet large enough such that one actually has to manage various diverse stakeholders and entrenched interests -- which is something one has to do, if one seeks to govern and alter the society we have. Maybe Walton will prove up to the task, maybe not; maybe her ideas will have legs, maybe they'll be all smoke. But I'm curious to find out.

Brown has gone on a fundraising tear from developers and Republicans, and so is very well-financed; already Walton's backers are prepping a narrative where the Powers-That-Be conspired to keep her out of the seat in defiance of the popular will. I find such stories to be more than a little tendentious, even though it's true that Walton has admittedly been slow to consolidate formal Democratic Party support. Even still, and pat "establishment vs. insurgent" narratives aside, Walton was endorsed by both of New York's senators (Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand), and from my vantage there are more big-wig Democratic figures who are trying to stay neutral than who are actively backing Brown. More to the point: if you can't beat your opponent when his name isn't even on the ballot, then maybe your "popular" support isn't as broad as you think it is (and according to the above-linked poll, Brown actually sports surprisingly robust approval ratings -- 60%! -- for a guy who lost in a primary). 

That said, just as a political observer (and admittedly, someone who doesn't live in Buffalo), I'd be very curious to see how a Walton stint in the Mayor's office would go. So for now, I guess I'm still rooting for her.

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