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Judge Sinatra rules Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown must be allowed on November ballot

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown speaks to reporters Aug. 30, 2021 following a news conference at Resurgence Brewing Company about his efforts to get on the November ballot.
Tom Dinki
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown speaks to reporters Aug. 30, 2021 outside Resurgence Brewing Company about his efforts to get on the November ballot. A federal judge ruled Sept. 3, 2021 that Brown must be allowed on the ballot.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown must be allowed on the November ballot as an independent candidate, U.S. District Court Judge John Sinatra ruled Friday.

Sinatra ordered the Erie County Board of Elections to place Brown on an independent ballot line for the Nov. 2 general election. This comes exactly one week afterthe Board of Elections rejected Brown’s petition to get on the ballot several months past the deadline.

Brown, a four-term incumbent Democratic mayor,lost the June Democratic primary to political newcomer and Democratic Socialist India Walton. Since then, Brown has been petitioning to be on an independent line, called the Buffalo Party.

Brown’s main argument for getting on the ballot past the independent nominating petition deadline stems from the fact the state Legislature moved up the deadline this year to no later than 23 weeks before the general election. It was previously only 11 weeks before. The filing deadline was moved up because the primary was moved up from September to June.

Sinatra, during a hearing Friday, called the earlier deadline a burden.

His ruling stems from five Buffalo voters requesting a temporary restraining order to bar the county Board of Elections from keeping Brown off the ballot.

“Obviously we're pleased with the court's ruling. We think they got it right,” said an attorney for the voters, Bryan Sells.

Attorney Bryan Sells, representing "five Buffalo voters," speaks after ruling put Mayor Byron Brown on November ballot.

Sells cited 1983 U.S. Supreme Court case Anderson v. Celebrezze. John Anderson, an independent candidate for the 1980 presidential election, won after arguing Ohio’s filing deadline was unfair to independent candidates.

“What the Supreme Court said in the Anderson case is that petition deadlines that cut off the opportunity for new candidacies to emerge after the major party primaries … are unconstitutional or at least doubtful,” Sells said.

The ruling is already drawing sharp criticism considering Sinatra is the brother of prominent Buffalo real estate developer and Brown donor Nick Sinatra. Brown appeared in a 2018 advertisement for Nick Sinatra and his development company, Sinatra and Company Real Estate.

During Friday’s hearing, Judge Sinatra acknowledged some have asked him to recuse himself from the case, but said he saw “no basis for recusal.”

Walton, addressing the media after the hearing, said her campaign is considering appealing Sinatra’s ruling in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Walton called Sinatra “the farthest thing from an impartial judge” and said he should have recused himself. She described his ruling as a “travesty and a mockery of justice,” noting the state deadline had already passed.

“[Brown] was on the ballot in the primary and he lost. So the fact that he's able to have a second bite at the apple, it just shows that he is a true sore loser and is attempting to circumvent the processes that have been put in place by our state government and our federal government to protect the electorate in elections,” she said.

India Walton reacts to court ruling putting Byron Brown back on the November ballot

Sells, an Atlanta attorney specializing in voting rights, said he wasn’t representing Brown’s campaign, but rather the five voters who are “stand-ins for all Buffalonians who want a choice at the ballot on the general election day.”

Sells said he was interested in the case because it involved an independent candidate who has “a real chance of winning.”

“Oftentimes in ballot access cases, the plaintiffs are fringe parties or substantial third parties, and their rights are important and their views are important, but it's not very often that a candidate like this comes around, a movement like this comes around … that has the opportunity to create a real choice for Buffalo voters where there wasn't one before.”

Asked what he’d think if Walton had lost the primary and filed to get on the ballot past the deadline, Sells said, “I think she’d have the same argument.”

During the primary race, Walton missed the deadline to get on the line of the Working Families Party , a progressive third party, but did not challenge it.

“The law is the law and our campaign has abided by that from the beginning,” she said. “And we expect any other opponents to abide by the same rules that have been set forth by our state board of elections.”

WBFO's Thomas O'Neil-White and Michael Mroziak contributed to this report.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.
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