BUFFALO, N.Y. ― The New York Republican Party is going to bat for the Democratic mayor of Buffalo, New York, as he fends off a progressive challenger.
Four-term Mayor Byron Brown, a centrist, lost the Democratic primary in June to progressive community activist India Walton — who calls herself a democratic socialist — and is now mounting a write-in campaign to defeat Walton in the general election.
Without a partisan of their own on the ballot, top Republicans in Western New York have made no secret of their preference for the business-friendly Brown, with a number of pro-GOP business executives in particular chipping in to help fund his write-in effort.
The Walton campaign revealed at a press conference on Friday that Brown has official Republican Party support as well: The New York Republican State Committee is paying for mailers to Buffalonians that praise Brown and attack Walton.
A double-sided flyer sent to voters that the Walton campaign showed has a pro-Brown message on one side, calling him the “proven, commonsense leader Buffalo needs.”
On the other side of the flyer, the GOP provides a side-by-side comparison of the two candidates and warns that Walton’s “radical agenda will destroy Buffalo.” Walton, the flyer claims, would “defund the police,” “protect violent criminals,” and usher in “economic disaster.”
At Friday’s press conference, in which Buffalo Common Councilman Rasheed Wyatt announced his endorsement of Walton ― her first from a council member ― Walton said that the mailer affirmed that she is the best choice for the city’s Democratic majority.
“It just speaks to who is behind the Byron Brown campaign ― and it’s not the Democratic Party,” Walton said.
A spokesperson for the Brown campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Buffalo Common Councilman Chris Scanlon, a moderate Democrat supporting Brown, told HuffPost on Thursday night that there is nothing wrong with Republicans and independents getting behind Brown in the general election.
“The mayor of the city of Buffalo is not the mayor of the Democrats of the city of Buffalo,” Scanlon said. “He’s the mayor of the entire city of Buffalo.”
Referring to Brown’s conservative backers, he added, “I would assume they’re supporting him because of his 15-year track record of accomplishments that they want to continue.”
HuffPost also reached out to the New York Republican State Committee. The party body did not immediately respond to a request for an explanation about why it had decided to get involved on behalf of a Democrat.
Reached by phone, Carl Paladino, a Buffalo real estate developer, conservative activist and former Republican candidate for New York governor, told HuffPost that he had nothing to do with the state party’s decision.
He approved of the mailer: “I’m awful happy that they” sent it, he said.
“Obviously the Huffington Post is a liberal progressive paper and you’re supporting that communist woman who’s as dumb as a fucking rock and she’s going nowhere,” he said before abruptly hanging up the phone.
The Republican mailer echoes misleading or outright wrong attacks that Brown has made against Walton.
Walton hopes to reduce the city’s police budget by $7.5 million, but has promised to find the savings without firing any officers. Brown and the GOP mailer both incorrectly claim that she would fire 100 police officers. The New York Working Families Party has initiated a six-figure TV ad buy to rebut Brown’s attack.
The mailer also reiterates Brown’s inaccurate claim that Walton would adopt a “lenient no-jail policy” for sex offenders. In reality, Walton has said she supports a “restorative justice” approach that offers victims of sexual violence the option of seeking interpersonal restitution and atonement from the perpetrators of the violence, but does not preclude the use of incarceration.
Still, the idea that Walton is even interested in offering survivors of sex crimes the option of pursuing “restorative justice” is enough to repel some Buffalonians. “As a parent, I can’t reconcile with that,” Scanlon said.
Buffalo Common Councilman Wyatt, who endorsed Walton on Friday but is considerably less left-wing than her, told HuffPost that “lies” are to blame for fears about Walton’s law-enforcement agenda.
He believes that the city can achieve savings from the police department budget by reducing the use of unnecessary overtime payments.
“I don’t believe in eliminating any police,” he said. “She said that to me ― and I’m glad to hear it, because I don’t think any council member wants to reduce police.”
As the scope of Republican support for Brown becomes clearer, Walton is racking up more high-profile Democratic endorsements.
On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced that he was endorsing Walton. He called her an “inspiring community leader, mother, nurse, and a lifelong Buffalonian with a clear progressive vision for her hometown.”
Schumer joins a relatively modest roster of New York Democrats supporting Walton that includes Wyatt, state Sen. Sean Ryan, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and state Assemblyman Jon Rivera, who was also at Friday’s press conference.
A number of other prominent New York Democrats, including Gov. Kathy Hochul, and New York State Democratic Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, have stayed neutral in the race.
Asked about Schumer’s backing on Friday, Walton said, “That’s quite the endorsement!”
“I am very happy to have the support of the senator,” she said, flanked by Rivera and Wyatt. “I hope that will, along with this endorsement from Councilman Wyatt and my Assembly member and our senator, Sean Ryan, be permission for folks who are on the fence to come on out and support me as the Democratic nominee for mayor of Buffalo.”