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Mayor's race: Byron Brown says election returns show 'one of the greatest comebacks in our history' – The Buffalo News

Mayor Byron Brown along with his wife Michelle speak to supporters after declaring victory over India Walton for mayor of Buffalo, on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)
Campaign “Director of Fun” Seamus Gallivan arrives at Main Events Banquet Hall with a cardboard cutout of mayoral candidate India Walton, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Derek Gee / Buffalo News)
Mayor Byron Brown and Democratic mayoral nominee India Walton.
Pat Fitzgerald hands a Byron Brown stamp to Sue Camizzi before she votes at the Tosh Collins Community Center in South Buffalo Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. 
Bill Witnauer, a Byron Brown volunteer, puts out campaign items before voting begins at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center in Buffalo, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Lora Hartman and her daughter Cate Hartman fill out their ballots at the Tosh Collins Community Center in South Buffalo Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. 
 
[Buffalo mayor’s race results | Erie County sheriff’s race results]
[Live coverage from the campaign trail in Erie, Niagara counties]
Byron Brown declared victory before cheering supporters at his campaign headquarters.
“The people chose four more years of a Brown administration,”  the mayor said. “The people chose one of the greatest comeback stories in our history.”
Eunice Lewin said she talked to the mayor hours after his June primary loss to India Walton – by phone at 3 a.m.
“I said to him, ‘Do you have it in the belly? Do you love Buffalo?’”
“He said, ‘I do have it in the belly. I do love Buffalo.’”
“And I said, ‘let’s go.’”
Lewin went on to co-chair the Brown for Buffalo write-in campaign.
“We should never confuse his gentleness for weakness,” she said. “He remained focused and when he said that he wanted to run a write-in campaign, I said, ‘Onward to victory.’ “
– Charlie Specht
10:35 p.m.:  India Walton wants to work with ‘all the winners … to advance a healthy and safer Buffalo for all’
India Walton, in brief appearance at Democratic committee headquarters, said, “I am extremely proud of the campaign that we have run. I am looking forward to seeing the final results come in, and I am looking forward to working with all of our current city electeds and all of the winners tonight and community members to advance a healthy and safer Buffalo for all.”
“Every vote needs to be counted,” she said. “Right now it’s Walton against write-in, whoever that is. I think that who write-in is remains to be seen.”
A Walton mayoral win would be a win for socialism — a political philosophy that, in America, has been winning more often lately.
Walton aimed to become the first socialist mayor of an American city since Bernie Sanders — now a U.S. senator and two-time Democratic presidential candidate — served as mayor of Burlington, VT, in the 1980s.
And she would be the first socialist mayor of a major American city since Frank Zeidler served three terms as mayor of Milwaukee from 1948 to 1960.
But Walton would be by no means alone in serving as a democratic socialist in office today.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx started the trend in 2018, toppling then-Rep. Joe Crowley in a Democratic primary.
Since then, other democratic socialists to win office include Rep. Jamaal Bowman of Yonkers and several members of the New York State Assembly.
But what is democratic socialism, anyway? In essence, it’s an effort to combine democracy with government control of major sectors of the economy, all in an effort to redistribute wealth and eradicate poverty.
That’s what democratic socialism is in theory, anyway. A Walton win, appearing very unlikely now, would give Buffalo — and all of America — a chance to see what it is in practice on a large scale.
Deidre Williams and Jerry Zremski
Mayoral candidate India Walton speaks to the media in the press room outside her election night party at Main Events Banquet Hall as ballots are tallied in her contest against incumbent Byron Brown who waged a write-in campaign for reelection, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Derek Gee / Buffalo News)
Write-in campaign stands as unique in Buffalo mayoral elections
Never before in Buffalo’s long history has a write-in effort figured so prominently in an election for mayor.
But after Walton stunned Brown in the June Democratic primary — leaving with him with no general election line — the mayor was faced with no other option than to launch a write-in campaign.
Walton constantly emphasized her status on the party line as the official Democratic nominee — an important factor in heavily Democratic Buffalo. But much of Brown’s general election campaign centered around educating voters on how to write in his name, and his “Write Down Byron Brown” slogan became a key part of the effort. He even issued pre-inked stamps to potential supporters for use in the ballot’s bottom right corner.
But Brown also acknowledged his huge mistake in not pushing harder to win the primary, and that nothing beats appearing on the ballot.
– Robert McCarthy
10 p.m.: Did Walton’s ‘we are coming’ comment affect the campaign?
Toppling four-term Mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary in June, India Walton was nothing if not confident.
“This victory is ours, and it’s the first of many,” she said. “If you are in an elected office right now, you are being put on notice. We are coming.”
By “we,” Walton meant Democrats like her — that is, democratic socialists.
But did Walton really help her cause that night?
Some political insiders said last week that she did just the opposite: alienating established Democratic council members and others who could have helped her, but who instead joined Brown’s write-in campaign.
Those insiders will be proved wrong if Walton wins tonight, of course. What’s more, Walton and her allies — democratic socialists and members of the Working Families Party, most notably — will be emboldened.
And what Walton said on that night in June may prove to be precursor to one primary challenge after another for more centrist Democrats throughout metro Buffalo and beyond.
– Robert McCarthy
9:45 p.m.:  India Walton to supporters: ‘Thank you for sticking it out with me.’
India Walton doesn’t travel with an entourage, usually showing up at campaign events in a black vehicle with one or two bodyguards.
She’s seen a lot of national attention since her surprise Democratic primary win in June over Mayor Byron Brown.
She’s been interviewed by MSNBC’s Chris Hayes, who called Buffalo’s mayoral race “a fascinating race to watch.” CNN called it one of five mayoral races to watch.
She’s been quoted by the New York Times, featured in Elle magazine and profiled in the New Yorker.
But being in the national spotlight has taken some getting used to, she said. In fact, it makes her a bit uncomfortable.
“I’m really a pretty private person and an introvert, so it’s a huge adjustment for me to have like this really bright light shined on my entire life,” she said.
She’s spirited, a cheerleader who lauds her volunteers at every chance. She tells them to lead with love, stay positive and encourage folks to go out and vote.
“Thank you for sticking it out with me,” she told supporters earlier this week. “Thank you for sticking it out with this campaign. Thank you for sticking it out for all of us. And we have from counting down the months, to counting down the weeks, to counting down the days, and now we are just hours of away from victory. And it means so much.”
She laughs easily and often, stays upbeat and optimistic – and downright confident – even when reporters point out not so flattering media stories and the fact she’s behind Byron Brown in some polls.
She going to prove pollsters wrong, she says.
“I just feel good. I feel like we’ve worked really hard. We’ve done all that we possibly can,” she said Monday.
– Deidre Williams
9:30 p.m.: At Brown gathering, mayor’s supporters tout ‘a city coming into its own’
A diverse coalition of voters — Black and white, business executives, developers and everyday folks — packed into his campaign headquarters on Washington Street to cheer on Mayor Byron W. Brown’s quest for an unprecedented fifth term as mayor.
With MC Hammer music blaring, they said Brown has welcomed development of the waterfront and the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and that he should be proud of that record, despite criticism from challenger India Walton that the mayor is too pro-development.
“The mayor is pro-business,” said developer Douglas Jemal, a major Brown campaign donor. “What happens if there is no development? What happens if no one builds anything? What do we have at the end of the day? Nothing.”
Mayor Byron Brown speaks to developer Doug Jemal prior to the polls closing at his headquarters after defeating India Walton on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)
City firefighter Mike Andrews said despite the shiny buildings downtown, Brown has not forgotten about taxpayers like him.
“People are beginning to move back into the City of Buffalo,” Andrews said. “I’m a homeowner in the city. I don’t want my taxes to go up if they don’t need to.”
The big challenge, Brown supporters acknowledged, was getting voters to navigate the process of write-in voting. Three campaign volunteers interviewed by The News said they did not encounter many issues at polling sites, while one said that her stamp malfunctioned and she wrote in the mayor’s name instead.
“People coming to the poll sites seemed to already know what to do,” said Tom Yorty, a Brown campaign volunteer.
Yorti and his wife, Carol Yorti, said they liked Brown’s “emotional intelligence” and ability to connect with voters, as well as his perceived success turning around Buffalo’s image in national publications.
“It’s taken a long time to get to this point,” Carol Yorti said. “Buffalo’s always viewed as the blizzard city, this downtrodden city, and it’s not. It’s really come alive.”
Her husband added, “It’s kind of a city coming into its own and I think he gets credit for that.”
– Charlie Specht
9:15 p.m.:  The nation – and the world – watch Buffalo mayoral race
Yahoo! Singapore doesn’t generally cover Buffalo politics — but it’s doing so this year, even though the tropical island metropolis is 9,370 miles away from the 716.
“The Walton-Brown race is the rare story of an entrenched incumbent who took voters for granted in the primary and has since run a spirited general election campaign in a predominantly Democratic, though not especially liberal, city,” HuffPost reporter Daniel Marans wrote in a long story on the Buffalo mayor’s race that Yahoo!’s Singapore news site published.
That’s just one of many signs that Buffalo’s mayoral race is not just a local story, but a worldwide story.
Readers in dozens of American cities are finding out all about the race, too, thanks to Carolyn Thompson of the Associated Press, a Buffalo-based correspondent for the worldwide news service.
“When India Walton beat Buffalo’s four-term mayor in a Democratic primary last June, New York’s second largest city looked like it was about to get a leader like no other in its history,” Thompson wrote in a story that appeared in outlets as far-flung as the Miami Herald and the Independent, a British newspaper. “She’d be its first female mayor and the first to identify as a democratic socialist. But rather than pack up his City Hall office of 16 years, Mayor Byron Brown has stayed in the race in pursuit of his own superlatives: He’s trying to become the first person to win a major race as a write-in candidate in New York state, and — if he gets a fifth term — Buffalo’s longest-serving mayor.”
That HuffPost piece, and that AP piece, sum up the sort of coverage the mayoral race — and the city — are getting worldwide. It’s horserace political coverage set in Buffalo, a city that the national media isn’t bashing, but rather struggling to explain.
HuffPost called Buffalo “famously segregated,” which is true, but otherwise, the words the national media have had for Buffalo range from complimentary to complicated.
“The great American city of Buffalo is getting a new mayor tomorrow, maybe,” MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow said Monday night.
Meanwhile, Jesse McKinley of the New York Times wrote that Walton’s platform in the primary “leaned heavily on the notion that the city — which has had pockets of economic vitality under Mr. Brown — should share the wealth, and address its longtime problems with affordable housing, a subpar school system and income disparity, including more than a third of the city’s children living in poverty.”
And in the Washington Post, Jada Yuan and Clyde McGrady wrote: “Buffalo in 2021 is a postindustrial city searching for identity that isn’t centered on chicken wings, snowstorms or football. The steel factories are gone, and the pandemic has left the somewhat revitalized downtown, with its Art Deco City Hall and expensive new loft apartments, eerily empty. Houses in upper middle-class neighborhoods tend to look like mansions, while on the East Side, whole blocks are filled with vacant lots. But there are also thriving communities of immigrants and refugees, and a new socialist clubhouse and bar where Walton’s supporters gather at the end of canvassing shifts.”
But no publication captured the campaign’s complexity quite like Sputnik, the Russian news site, which described Walton’s political appeal to downstate Democrats with a mixed metaphor of astronomical proportions.
“As Election Day approaches, a flood of Democrats from New York City have hitched their wagon to the shores of Lake Erie to vote for their chosen candidate,” Sputnik wrote.
However, Sputnik did not publish a picture of any flooding downstate Democrats hitching their wagon to the shores of Lake Erie. Perhaps that is because Democrats from New York City cannot legally vote for mayor in Buffalo.
– Jerry Zremski
9 p.m.: As polls close, ‘shelf life’ looms as major factor in mayoral election
Only Byron Brown and the late James Griffin served four terms –16 years – as Buffalo’s mayor.
Now Brown seeks to make history by trying for an unprecedented fifth term, representing a major test of the political axiom known as “shelf life.”
The term describes the time politicians – especially those in executive positions – are deemed electable before they wear out their welcome.
Most analysts believe shelf life contributed to Brown’s primary defeat, and could figure in the general election outcome, too, as voters seek a fresh face.
Still, the mayor has steadfastly emphasized his experience as he tries to turn his long City Hall tenure into an advantage. Today’s election now serves as a major test of shelf life in Buffalo.
– Robert McCarthy
8:45 p.m.: Labor playing big role in mayoral election
Organized labor has played a key role in the 2021 contest for mayor of Buffalo. Unions not only contribute to campaigns, but their members also make phone calls, send texts and ring doorbells for favored candidates.
India Walton made news over the summer when Workers United Upstate committed its 2,000 members to her campaign.
Then Mayor Byron Brown picked up the big labor prize — the Western New York Area Labor Federation/AFL-CIO. It supported Brown in the primary and general elections — and that meant the power of 150,000 members.
Support from the powerful Buffalo Teachers Federation varied. The union backed Walton in the primary but offered no endorsement in the general, labeling the contest too “divisive” among its members.
Other unions also weighed in for both candidates.
– Robert McCarthy
8:30 p.m.: Some big name pols endorse the candidates; some don’t
Political veterans can argue from now until next Election Day over the usefulness of endorsements.
But the 2021 election for mayor of Buffalo may be remembered by many well-known elected officials remaining on the sidelines.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hugs India Walton during a rally at the Town Ballroom on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.
For sure, Democratic nominee India Walton and incumbent Mayor Byron Brown racked up their share. Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand all landed in the Walton camp. So did Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, State Sen. Sean M. Ryan and Legislature Chairwoman April N.M. Baskin, among others.
Brown, meanwhile, was supported by Assembly Majority Leader Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, Comptroller Barbara Miller-Williams and three Council members — also among others.
But in addition, the contest remains notable for those who remained neutral — including Gov. Kathy Hochul, Rep. Brian Higgins and State Sen. Timothy M. Kennedy.
– Robert McCarthy
8:15 p.m.: This year, the general election is meaningful
It’s been a long time since a meaningful contest for mayor of Buffalo has occurred in the general election.
When Byron Brown first ran in 2005, he received a spirited challenge from Republican Kevin J. Helfer (now a member of the Brown administration). Helfer raised money and waged a serious campaign. But he got creamed by Brown — 64% to 27%.
The late Common Council President George K. Arthur, meanwhile, ran on the Democratic line in the 1985 general election against the then-incumbent Mayor James D. Griffin — a Democrat who was the candidate of the Republican, Conservative and Right to Life parties. Arthur lost 53% to 43%.
But most political observers harken to the big contest of 1977 for a memorable general election contest for mayor in heavily Democratic Buffalo. That’s when Griffin won his first of four campaigns for mayor with 42% of the vote on the Conservative line against Democrat Arthur O. Eve (31.5%) and Republican John J. Phelan (25%).
– Robert McCarthy
8 p.m.: Why the Masten District matters
In his mayoral runs before, Byron Brown could always look to the Masten District as a stronghold. He captured 69% of the vote against two well-known rivals in the Democratic primary four years ago.
But Brown didn’t run up the score in the Masten District in the June primary, winning 55% to 41%, a factor in his surprising primary loss to democratic socialist candidate India Walton.
In the general election, can Brown count on Masten to supply enough votes to overcome narrower margins elsewhere in the city?
Holding down his vote totals in Masten could be pivotal to Walton’s chances.
That may have been on her mind Tuesday as she made visits to polling places in Masten, including Hamlin Park Elementary School and True Bethel Baptist Church on East Ferry Street.
At the Delavan Grider Community Center, turnout was light all morning and into the afternoon.
Mizanur Mizan voted for Brown.
“Walton doesn’t have much experience,” he said. “She might be ready next time.”
Supporters for Walton also showed up at the voting location.
“Byron Brown needs to get out of office,” Brandi Hill said. “He hasn’t done nothing in 16 years. He comes in the inner city only after someone is dead. He doesn’t come here to prevent violence. I feel like India might bring some actual change to the community.”
– Deidre Williams and Mark Sommer
Mayor Byron Brown talks with Joy Harrison, 10, at the Buffalo Renaissance Foundation Community Center on East Ferry Street during a community Halloween party on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. 
7:45 p.m.: What Byron Brown has to do to win
Byron Brown has cruised to mayoral victories four times since 2005, but this time it will be significantly more difficult.
And it’s all because voters will have to write in his name after he lost the June Democratic primary to community activist India Walton.
So here’s what he has to do to win:
– Jerry Zremski
India Walton campaigns outside the polling site at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. She greets Jane Jacobson, who is going in to vote. 
7:30 p.m.: What India Walton has to do to win
India Walton won the Democratic mayoral primary – but that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll win her general election rematch against Mayor Byron Brown.
Political pros said that in order to win, Walton will have to:
– Jerry Zremski
7 p.m.: Why tonight’s election could be tough to call
You won’t see Mayor Byron Brown’s vote totals on the Erie County Board of Election’s website on election night – and that is just one reason the race between the incumbent and Democratic nominee India B. Walton will be tough to call.
The mayor is a write-in candidate, and write-in votes in the race won’t even be counted until Nov. 16.
All we will know when all the votes are counted later tonight is how many people voted for Walton, how many appeared to cast write-in ballots correctly and how many appeared to cast write-in votes incorrectly.
And discerning Brown’s number of votes won’t be as simple as counting up all those write-in ballots.
For one thing, many of those incorrectly cast ballots may end up counting in the end. That’s because the Board of Elections plans to count votes for Brown even from voters who simply wrote in his name but didn’t fill in the oval next to it the way they were supposed to do it. It’s all part of the board’s plan to focus on voter intent rather than by-the-book accuracy.
But for another thing, voter intent might be hard to discern. What if a voter writes in Brian Brown, or Byron Browne? What if a voter writes or stamps Brown’s name on top of Walton’s on the ballot? And what if voters fill in the correct oval but then write in Brown’s name to the left of it, thereby accidentally casting a vote for Brown for city court judge?
The answers to those questions remain unknown, and that’s just one reason why it will be hard to make sense of tonight’s write-in results.
The Walton campaign will surely challenge any improperly cast ballot, and if the race is close, those challenges could end up in court.
Then there’s the fact that there are two other, far lesser-known write-in candidates: Ben Carlisle and Jaz Miles.
Generally speaking, political pros think Brown will win if the write-in total exceeds Walton’s total by at least 10 percentage points.
But even that’s not guaranteed – which is why calling the race Tuesday night could be a very risky proposition.
– Jerry Zremski
Election Day campaigning: Maureen Milligan holds signs for India Walton outside the Gloria J. Parks Community Center on Main Street in Buffalo, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
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Some political pros said the seeds of Walton’s disappointing performance were those she sowed on primary night and in the weeks afterwards, when she failed to broaden her base of support beyond the most progressive of progressives.

India Walton received just over half of the votes cast in the Niagara, Ellicott and Masten districts in Buffalo’s mayoral race.
There was some lively campaigning outside the Delavan Grider Community Center polling site for India Walton and Byron Brown.

Following are unofficial tallies of votes counted on election night, which include early vote and Election Day tallies. They do not include absentee ballots.

Following are unofficial tallies of votes counted on election night, which include early vote and Election Day tallies. They do not include absentee ballots.
 
Mayor Byron Brown along with his wife Michelle speak to supporters after declaring victory over India Walton for mayor of Buffalo, on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)
Mayoral candidate India Walton speaks to the media in the press room outside her election night party at Main Events Banquet Hall as ballots are tallied in her contest against incumbent Byron Brown who waged a write-in campaign for reelection, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Derek Gee / Buffalo News)
Campaign “Director of Fun” Seamus Gallivan arrives at Main Events Banquet Hall with a cardboard cutout of mayoral candidate India Walton, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Derek Gee / Buffalo News)
Mayor Byron Brown speaks to developer Doug Jemal prior to the polls closing at his headquarters after defeating India Walton on Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)
Mayor Byron Brown and Democratic mayoral nominee India Walton.
Mayor Byron Brown talks with Joy Harrison, 10, at the Buffalo Renaissance Foundation Community Center on East Ferry Street during a community Halloween party on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021. 
India Walton campaigns outside the polling site at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center on Friday, Oct. 29, 2021. She greets Jane Jacobson, who is going in to vote. 
Pat Fitzgerald hands a Byron Brown stamp to Sue Camizzi before she votes at the Tosh Collins Community Center in South Buffalo Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. 
Bill Witnauer, a Byron Brown volunteer, puts out campaign items before voting begins at the Gloria J. Parks Community Center in Buffalo, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Election Day campaigning: Maureen Milligan holds signs for India Walton outside the Gloria J. Parks Community Center on Main Street in Buffalo, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021.
Lora Hartman and her daughter Cate Hartman fill out their ballots at the Tosh Collins Community Center in South Buffalo Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. 
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez hugs India Walton during a rally at the Town Ballroom on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021.
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