Buffalo’s Next Mayor is Putting Electeds on Notice

Sometimes, the good people win, and that’s just what happened on June 22  in Buffalo, NY when community organizer, working mom and self-described socialist India Walton won the Democratic primary to stand for mayor in that Democratic town.

I met India for the first time several years ago, when she and her neighbors were starting the first community land trust in Buffalo, a non-profit designed to give residents of their historically Black community some control over that land.

Not long after, I took a camera crew to Buffalo to interview Walton and produce a half-hour documentary about a city whose activists were transforming not only city policy, but also city politics, which were keenly on their minds at that time.

“I think that now is the time when we challenge who should be making policies,” Walton told me then, standing small but mighty in a salmon colored dress and headband, overlooking the empty lot where, in the following year, several gleaming single-family homes appeared.

Walton’s strong. That much was obvious. At 14, she became pregnant with her first child and started work. To avoid a future of bottom dollar wages, she pursued a GED, which she was earning when her twins were born, premature. Training and becoming a nurse in the neonatal intensive care unit—or NIC Unit—that saved her kids, she soon realized that the same hospital that employed her was also in the process of sprawling into the neighborhood, pricing out the local community. That’s what prompted her to found the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust.

Walton’s persuasive. She successfully convinced city officials to donate land to the trust. Being able to persuade your representative’s good, she said, but what if local people represented themselves?

“It doesn’t always have to be a person with a degree in political science or a lawyer,” Walton told me, sitting on a stoop down the block from the land trust. “Moms know what we need. Nurses know what we need. Everyday people who live these lives and face challenges and overcome challenges I believe are the ones who are best equipped to lead.”

Could it be an NIC unit nurse? I asked her cheekily. “It could definitely be and probably should be,” she answered. Walton launched her campaign for office on the day our show about her aired on public TV in Buffalo last December.

Now, she’s poised to be Buffalo’s next mayor, the first woman, the first nurse, the first socialist in a big US city in decades. “Watch out,” she warned on election night.  “This victory is the first of many,” adding, “If you are in an elected office right now, you are being put on notice: we are coming.”

Laura Flanders interviews forward-thinking people about the key questions of our time on The Laura Flanders Show, a nationally syndicated radio and television program also available as a podcast. A contributing writer to The Nation, Flanders is also the author of six books, including The New York Times best-seller, BUSHWOMEN: Tales of a Cynical Species.  She is the recipient of a 2019 Izzy Award for excellence in independent journalism, the Pat Mitchell Lifetime Achievement Award for advancing women’s and girls’ visibility in media and a 2020 Lannan Cultural Freedom Fellowship for her reporting and advocacy for public media. lauraflanders.org