“There is currently just one declared candidate for mayor of Buffalo. That’s India Walton, a registered nurse turned community activist.
Walton let slip her plans to Buffalo News political columnist Bob McCarthy in mid-November. She officially announced Dec. 13 in typical pandemic fashion: with a Facebook Live event that attracted a couple hundred participants.
In the week that followed, her announcement video was viewed more than 4,000 times. Her Act Blue campaign account raised a little over $3,000. Her Facebook page attracted more than 1,200 followers. And her list of campaign volunteers topped 120.
The dollar figure is negligible. She’ll need to raise far more.
But 120 volunteers in one week: That’s not bad at all.
In fact, it’s promising. Those volunteers — actual human bodies offering to carry petitions, distribute literature, make phone calls, organize and staff events — are worth far more than any number of social media views and followers.
Those volunteers represent enthusiasm.
They are especially valuable because their commitment is actually voluntary. They do not owe Walton their livelihoods. Nor can they reasonably expect jobs or city contracts on the other end of the campaign. They are not cogs in a political machine — although, if Walton’s campaign gains traction, they may become that.
It once was possible to be elected mayor of Buffalo without a machine. Francis X. Schwab was a Pullman porter, a traveling salesman, and a brewer whose mayoral candidacy in 1921 began as a joke. He served two terms.
Before Schwab, most of Buffalo’s mayors were bluebloods. After Schwab, the field opened up — a little. You had to be white and male, but you didn’t need to have a street or a park or a building named for your family.
By the 1960s, the political apparatus became difficult to circumvent. Candidates were expected to have made their names by working campaigns, serving elected officials or winning lesser offices.
Brown and his fellow Grassroots founders built an organization to challenge the political machine run by former state Assemblyman Arthur Eve. They weren’t reformers: They were outsiders looking to take the place of those on the inside. To accomplish that, Brown followed the established path: He served as a staffer to Eve, a city councilmember and the county executive; he became a city councilmember himself, then — like his two predecessors in the mayor’s office — a state senator.
Walton is looking at a different path. She’s never run for office or worked in government. Until recently Walton was executive director of the F.B. Community Land Trust, which aims to provide high-quality, affordable housing in the city’s Fruit Belt neighborhood. She resigned that position at the end of November to run for mayor.
Walton will seek campaign money outside the city, from national groups looking to fund candidates, especially women of color, who espouse progressive positions.
She’ll need outside money, because she has vowed to refuse corporate donations. That includes money from developers, who bankroll a lot of political campaigns around here.”