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Analysis: Erie County party chairmen take 'a gut punch' with several primary upsets

Mike Desmond

Outside Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s campaign headquarters Tuesday night, there was a large sign with the words “We are Living in an Extraordinary Time."

And as primary elections go, that was certainly the case when Brown was ousted by India Walton, a self-proclaimed Democratic Socialist and Black Lives Matters activist that will become the city’s first female mayor.

“This is an unbelievable primary election,” said Ken Kruly, a former Erie County budget official who writes the PoliticsAndStuff.com blog. “Major upsets all over the place, the biggest of course being Mayor Brown.”

Brown lost to Walton, a Black female who calls herself a Democratic Socialist and has never been elected to public office.

And her insurgent campaign was not the only primary victory where endorsed establishment candidates failed to get their party’s ballot line in November.

  • In the Republican primary for Erie County Sheriff, former Buffalo police detective John Garcia beat endorsed GOP candidate Karen Healy Case, with 59 percent of the vote, to Healy Case’s 40 percent.
  • In the Democratic party primary for Erie County Sheriff, Kimberly Beaty - a candidate who left the race early on because she felt she was being rejected by the party establishment before supporters urged her back in – took 50 percent of the vote compared to endorsed candidate Brian Gould’s 38 percent.

“The county chairs who put up these candidates have all been punched in the gut tonight,” Kruly said.

“And that that includes the Conservative Party, because they were they endorsed Healy-Case prior to the Republicans endorsing her … so they've got something to deal with here, too. So all the parties were mowed down, and it's an incredible night. It's something that I don't recall seeing in a long, long time,” he said.

Healy Case will carry the Conservative line in November, with Garcia on the Republican line, and Beaty running as a Democrat.

In a statement early Wednesday morning, Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Jeremy Zellner said he will offer both candidates the party’s support.

“From the beginning of primary season to this moment, the process has been driven by the will of our party membership. Now, the challenge is to unite and work together to win in November,” the Zellner statement said.

Walton’s remarks on Tuesday evening stressed her outsider status.

“We set out to not only change Buffalo, but to change the way progressive politics are viewed in upstate New York, Walton said. "This is Buffalo and it is not lost on me that we have a very entrenched democratic party that has no interest in our type of politics. From the very beginning last year, when I brought my Island of Misfit Toys together, we were well aware that we were going to have to do things non-traditionally, outside of the system, in the middle of a pandemic. This is organizing."

Walton received 11,132 votes to Brown’s 9,625 in the unofficial tally from the Erie County Board of Elections. With no other party fielding a candidate in the general election in November, Walton’s ascendance to the mayor’s office is assured unless an unlikely and massive write-in campaign were to reverse Tuesday’s victory.

Dave Debo's journalism career runs the gamut from public radio to commercial radio, from digital projects to newspapers. With over 30 years of experience, he's produced national television news programs and has worked as both a daily and weekly print journalist and web editor.