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WATCH: Buffalo's mayoral debate


A lot of issues got covered during Thursday evening's Buffalo mayoral debate, despite the technical problems that plagued its virtual platform and an incumbent who didn't participate

For Buffalo residents, this is the homestretch of the Democratic mayoral election race. Early voting starts Saturday, leading up to Primary Election Day on June 22, and the primary usually decides the election.

Incumbent Mayor Byron Brown is seeking a fifth term, challenged by Le'Candice Durham and India Walton, but he was a no-show for the debate. The League of Women Voters, which sponsored the debate, said the mayor neither confirmed now declined the invitation.

That left Durham and Walton to hash it out. Walton is a nurse and community activist in the Fruit Belt who has been highly visible in the wake of the death of George Floyd. Durham is a city employee, currently in the 311 complaint system at City Hall.

The two women often agreed on issues brought forward by prepared questions from the LWV, like the need for much more affordable housing.

"All residents in the City of Buffalo deserve to have safe and affordable homes," said Durham. "All residents deserve to live and to be housed in any part of the city that they prefer. Also, I do believe having mixed-income neighborhoods, that would most definitely help."

"Mixed-income neighborhoods is something that everyone deserves because that's how you get amenities," said Walton. "That's how people get to know each other and rebuild communities. And one thing that I'll also want to do as mayor is incentivize city employees to live in the community in which they serve."

However, there were differences, like on an independent agency to handle discipline in the Buffalo Police Department.

"For officers who are found guilty of misconduct, I support this because I don't believe that any person should be above the law," Walton said. "I believe that the job of officers is to ensure public safety and I believe that as a whole, as a community, we need to move away from punitive measures and into more restorative practices and that includes increasing community policing."

City Hall has been making major changes in Buffalo's police department, moving away from traditional policing. Durham said she wants the new independent discipline agency, with one big difference.

"I support having the board, a citizens oversight board, but I would love for the board to be fair," Durham said. "The residents in the City of Buffalo should be able to vote on who will be on the board. That would give the citizens that right as well."

The debate was also plagued by technical glitches. After about a half-hour, Durham had to abandon her computer for her phone. The debate, managed technically by VOICE Buffalo, also had to end early.

Asked what each would do on Day One being mayor, Walton was specific.

"Stop using Buffalo Police as my personal security detail," she said. "Additionally, I am going to go on a listening tour. I am going to have my staff host town hall meetings and really get on the ground, be accessible, be transparent, be the type of leader that encourages our residents to be civically hysically engaged."

Durham had a different approach.

"As mayor, my plan is to have two mayor's offices, which will be on Clinton Street, in the heart of the city," she said. "It will be easy and accessible for all residents who want to be able to have a meeting and be able to speak with their mayor. During Day One, I will be having a grand opening of our satellite office on Clinton Street."

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.