Buffalo’s Dem Socialist mayoral hopeful India Walton to debate incumbent Byron Brown

ALBANY — The two Democrats vying in Buffalo’s mayoral race — Socialist candidate India Walton, who won the primary and four-term incumbent Byron Brown, who is running as a write-in — will debate Wednesday at St. Joe’s Collegiate Institute.

On Friday, Walton officially accepted the debate invitation for 9:15 a.m. on Oct. 27, according to the debate’s organizers, after previously declaring she would only participate in one matchup against Brown prior to the general election on Nov. 2.

“It’s a momentous moment for the city. Whoever wins the primary goes on to be mayor, but this is such an unusual situation,” said Ted Lina, the school’s AP government teacher and debate moderator.

“Here we have an incumbent mayor who loses the primary to a candidate who calls herself a Democratic Socialist — and he decides he will remain a candidate on the ballot as a write-in.”

India Walton, the Democratic mayoral candidate in Buffalo, has agreed to debate incumbent Mayor Byron Brown.
REUTERS/Lindsay DeDario

Walton drew national attention in June when she beat Brown in the primary, drawing a comparison to the shocking defeat in 2018 of longtime former Bronx Democratic Rep. Joe Crowley by insurgent candidate, current Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has become a star in left-leaning politics.

Local leaders have rallied around Walton as the Democratic nominee in the race, despite Brown’s refusal to exit the race and subsequent launching of his own write-in campaign.

On Thursday, she clinched the endorsement of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — a notable move coming from a leader in the moderate wing of the Democratic Party.

The endorsement also draws a stark comparison to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s refusal to back anyone in the race pre-general election, despite Buffalo being her home turf.

Brown is running a write-in campaign for mayor after losing the Democratic primary to Walton.
Brown is running a write-in campaign for mayor after losing the Democratic primary to Walton.
AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File

New York’s Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs has also declined to back Walton, arguing he shouldn’t have to extend his support to Democratic candidates in every case and then made a controversial comparison between Walton and David Duke, the former leader of the Ku Klux Klan hate group.

He later apologized for his comments.

Others like moderate Long Island Democratic Rep. Tom Suozzi, who is also eying his own potential run for governor, have traveled to Buffalo in recent weeks to endorse Brown — an ally of disgraced ex-Gov. Andrew Cuomo — and campaign against Walton, saying he opposes the spread of democratic socialism in the party.

Lina said the upcoming event is historical because St. Joe’s — a private all-boys Catholic prep school grades 9 through 12 in Buffalo — has been hosting prominent debates since 1984 — hosting candidates vying for posts in national, state and local government.

Students research and write the questions, and four students will be selected to ask the candidates their queries.

Walton, a Democratic Socialist, scored a major upset against Brown in the primary.
Walton, a Democratic Socialist, scored a major upset against Brown in the primary.
Robert Kirkham/The Buffalo News via AP

He’s run the contest every year since then, and told The Post the school hasn’t held a mayoral debate since 1985 as the city of Buffalo is heavily Democratic and typically whoever wins the race following the primary is likely the winner.

Lina said he invited Walton, Brown and another write-in candidate, Ben Carlisle, who is running neither as a Republican or a Democrat, and all three hopefuls will be present Wednesday.

“There’s tremendous interest in this. It shows the credibility that the school has,” he said of Walton’s acceptance.

The debate will be televised by local television stations, but it will not be open to the public.