India Walton On The Race To Lead Buffalo | Crooked Media
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September 15, 2021
What A Day
India Walton On The Race To Lead Buffalo

In This Episode

  • India Walton, the Democratic nominee for mayor of Buffalo, New York, is poised to win this November. Walton would be the first woman to ever lead the second largest city in the state, and the first self-identified socialist to lead a major American city in over 50 years. She joins us to kick off a new series of conversations that highlight candidates running in local and state elections and primaries across the country.
  • And in headlines: Hurricane Nicholas made landfall near Houston, the Census Bureau reported U.S. poverty fell in 2020, and Senate Democrats reached an agreement on a voting rights bill.





Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, September 15th. I’m Gideon Resnick.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast that takes full advantage of every new feature on the iPhone 13.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, it’s basically like VR if you have iPhone 13.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s a very immersive experience. Not everybody can handle it.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, we don’t have Dramamine for you. So sorry in advance.


Josie Duffy Rice: On today’s show, the poverty rate falls to its lowest level ever, according to the Census Bureau. Plus, some scientists say they’re going to “Jurassic Park” up a wooly mammoth.


Gideon Resnick: That could only turn out well. But first, there are innumerable local and state elections and primaries that are happening across the country, seemingly all the time, that you might not always hear about. Just yesterday, for instance, there was the California gubernatorial recall. You did hear about that from us. But also there was a preliminary election for the next mayor of Boston, where the first non-white person in the city’s history is poised to be elected. So today, we’re going to kick off a new series of conversations that highlight candidates running in these kinds of races across the country, what they stand for, and what the issues are that are animating their cities and states.


Josie Duffy Rice: Today, a very exciting one, India Walton. She shocked the Democratic establishment in late June when the former nurse in Buffalo, New York, defeated incumbent Mayor Byron Brown in the primary. Should she win this November, which she is highly favored to, Walton would be the first woman to ever lead the second largest city in New York State and the first self-identified socialist to lead a major American city in over 50 years.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, remarkable. It really is. And for all of those reasons we mentioned, Walton has faced a lot of opposition in the weeks since her primary win. In just recent days two judges ordered the Erie County Board of Elections to put Byron Brown on the ballot as an independent. That was even after he had missed the state deadline for filing. Walton and others have filed appeals against the ruling, and her campaign told me they expect a resolution in the days to come. Now, before all that happened, I spoke with Walton earlier this summer about her vision for the city, her personal story, the pandemic’s effects on wealth inequality and more. And I first asked her how that primary victory felt.


India Walton: I knew that we were doing something historic and monumental for Buffalo, but I had no idea that it would take on sort of a life of its own. People recognize me. Even places outside of Buffalo there’s sort of this fandom that’s happening. So it’s been both great and a little bit shocking.


Gideon Resnick: I’m sure that this has come up quite a bit, but what do you think when you hear people saying that you could likely be the first woman to lead Buffalo, first socialist mayor of a major city in more than 50 years—are those kind of played out at this point when people are asking you?


India Walton: It doesn’t really matter to me. I think what matters most is that I’m going to be able to create change for so many people. And knowing that my platform is centered around lifting people out of poverty and creating pathways to a quality life is what’s most important to me. Those other things are kind of cool. Those are things that my eventual grandchildren might care about. But for me, it’s about doing the work.


Gideon Resnick: And to that point, when you were actually campaigning and when you’re continuing to campaign, what elements of your personal identity do you think were most front and center in your conversations with voters in Buffalo?


India Walton: I think that my life is sort of a perfect storm of relatability. I’m from Buffalo. I grew up here, grew up poor. You know, I dropped out of high school, I’m a teenage mom. Like, this story is remarkable to some people, but to a lot of people in Buffalo is just an average story. And I think it also is inspirational that I have overcome so many challenges and I think that being from this community and having experienced all of the challenges, and then saying we’re going to work together to do something about it, is a believable story, right? Is not a politician trying to sell you something, it is a community member planning alongside other community people.


Gideon Resnick: And you’re talking about doing something about it. If you win the general election, what are some of the first priorities that you want to do straight off the jump for the city?


India Walton: I’m excited about a true participatory budgeting process where, you know, my administration is not unilaterally deciding for people how resources are allocated, but going to a community and saying how do we spend our money? And I think the last thing I’ll say is I’m looking forward to trialing basic minimum income program for individuals in Buffalo in the ALICE population, the asset-limited income-constrained employee category. Those people who are right there at that benefits cliff, who make just enough money to not qualify for benefits, but not quite enough to move up the socioeconomic ladder.


Gideon Resnick: That’s super interesting. Can you unpack that a little bit more for our audience? Like what would the actual income look like, how would it work?


India Walton: The population that I would be looking to target are people who, like I said, don’t have quite enough income to make it. So you give them a few extra hundred bucks a month, no strings attached, they voluntarily report what they do with those allocations. And the info out of Stockton said that people typically bought beds for the children, healthier food, paid off debt, put their children in extracurricular activities, they did very positive and productive things with the funding. So I’m interested to pilot a program like that here in Buffalo, and also collect that data to see what happens when you do help people get over that last little hurdle.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, absolutely. And also on the funding point, I think this was in The New York Times, that you’re talking about the actual phrase “defund the police” is not the exact word you most often use when talking about where you want to do with the city’s police department. Why is that? And do you think there’s a lesson there in terms of how leaders communicate their intents with constituents?


India Walton: Absolutely do. There’s a lot of jargon-y language that average people really don’t understand. So I try and break things down so that they make sense. Because what does defund the police even mean, right? It sounds scary if you’re not a part of our social justice community. And I like to explain things fully, right? We can cut excess spending from all of our budgets. We can allocate those resources to more useful places like youth programing, job skills training, fully funding mental health services, and things like that.


Gideon Resnick: I think a lot of people have been sort of thinking about this in the last year or so. But how, if at all, has the pandemic and the sort of mass uprising that we saw against racism and police brutality changed American politics? Is this like something that you think is a temporary type situation? Is this like a total rethinking of where we are and where we’re going?


India Walton: I think the pandemic was a magnifying glass for so many inequities and injustices that we’ve been watching for the last century, right? We’re telling them to wash their hands, to stay healthy, and they don’t have running water in their homes. Our children are learning virtually and we have this huge digital divide. You don’t even have access to high speed Internet still in 2021, right? It’s my prayer that things never go back to normal. And I think that we are heading down the pathway to things like universal health care, to free higher education, to broadband as a public utility—I think these are things that we’ve discovered not only make sense, but are also possible when we have the political will.


Gideon Resnick: I also did get some audience cues from the good people of Buffalo. So I want to ask a couple of these. This was from user Grace. She said: so many Buffalo communities need help and change, but I have known them to be places that prefer to stick with the devils they know—how does this Walton think that she can get everyone on board with some of these such incredible changes?


India Walton: The first challenge is that historically the primary winner is presumed to be next mayor, so I will be working through a transition process right now. Instead, I’m still running. The second challenge is inheriting a not so friendly city hall, right? There is fear being instilled in people who work for the city and I don’t know what the environment is going to be like when we do take office. And a lot of neighborhoods in Buffalo, they like the way things have always been, but I think that a lot of people like the way things have always been because they don’t believe that things can be different, and once we start to make some changes and people do see the tangible results in the increased quality of life, that folks will begin to come along.


Gideon Resnick: And then this one was from Adam Kessler. He said: With Mayor Brown so entrenched in the city’s politics for so long and with you lacking what some might consider traditional political experience, what would the plan be to both unite the party around a new kind of politician, while also putting in people to make sure that the agenda would be successfully implemented?


India Walton: Yeah, you know, what people don’t know about me is that I lack formal political experience, but I have relationships with a lot of elected officials. I’m an organizer, advocate, right, I was a nonprofit director of the Fruitvale Community Land Trust, where I had to work directly with city officials and in fact, to get land to build housing. You know, I worked on statewide campaigns, on bail reform and legalizing adult-use cannabis, so I’m familiar with our state level legislators. So there’s already a foundational relationship that I have with all of these folks and I believe that many of our electeds want to genuinely do what’s right for people and I do, too. So I think that we’re going to work really, really well together. But I think it’s mostly centered around relationship-building.


Gideon Resnick: And then one more. This is from Ben Verdie. His question is, with the developers coming into the city, he said: Byron Brown just let developers in, but that money largely doesn’t stick around in Buffalo. So do you have a plan to have those developers come into the city and make sure that that money generated actually stays in Buffalo?


India Walton: I do. And that’s the thing about doing community work for so long and working on policies and thinking about things like community-benefits agreements, ensuring that we have organized labor on jobs in the workforce and making sure that we do prioritize local businesses and do development that is based and rooted in hyper-localism in communities and letting neighborhoods make decisions on behalf of themselves. It’s going to be great and the potential for a city-wide land trust and community control—I am just super excited to be able to implement some of those ideas.


Gideon Resnick: Yeah, that was my conversation with India Walton, who is poised to be the next mayor of Buffalo, New York.


Josie Duffy Rice: She is really awesome. Great conversation. The mayoral election is in Buffalo is November 2nd, which we will continue to follow. And there will be more conversations with candidates to come, including questions we want to hear from you if these folks are going to show up on your ballot. And that’s the latest for now.


Gideon Resnick: It’s Wednesday, WAD squad, and today we’re doing a new segment where we take what we’ve learned from a news story and apply it to something else to satisfy our mercurial desires. It is called: This But for That.


deep, distorted voice:  This But for That.


Gideon Resnick: Unbelievable. Is that by voice? The listeners will tell. Disturbing nonetheless but I’m invigorated. One of the only animals brave enough to combine tusks and fur could be making a comeback: a startup called Colossal has raised %15 million in private funding to bring wooly mammoths back from extinction. The company is led by Harvard Medical School biologist George Church—he will no longer be a man of God after this—and it plans to modify the DNA of elephants to incorporate mammoth traits like dense hair and thick insulating fat. If they’re able to accomplish that before God strikes them down with lightning, then they’ll produce modified elephants/mammoth embryos and eventually a whole population of the animals. Apart from being really cool and vaguely twisted, Dr. Church says there’s also an environmental incentive for this research. Through a variety of innate behaviors, wooly mammoths could theoretically help turn tundras which emit carbon dioxide into grasslands, which traps CO2. Seems like one of the top 10 most inefficient ways to save the planet, but hey, I do not work at Harvard Medical School. Anyway, this story showed us that scientists are bringing things back from the dead. So Josie, what should they resurrect next?


Josie Duffy Rice: OK, so first, I’d like to see them use this technology to bring back the CDs that used to come with cereal boxes that let you install AOL, and they always had like a character from friends on it. Hopefully, Chandler.


Gideon Resnick: Mm hmm. We always hope for Chandler. That is great. Good to limit Internet access to people who have just eaten cereal. You need to be energized, full of sugar and focused. What else?


Josie Duffy Rice: I’d also like scientists to use DNA modification to bring back knowing more than like one other person’s phone number.


Gideon Resnick: Yes.


Josie Duffy Rice: Like I should know my husband’s phone number, you know, and I don’t think I do.


Gideon Resnick: You probably should. Yeah.


Josie Duffy Rice: I probably should.


Gideon Resnick: And one way to do it would be taking phone-number rich boomer DNA that has been festering for years, not doing that much, injecting it into soft, smart phone-dependent millennial brains like ours.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, that’s always a good idea. Just makes the boomers and the millennials.


Gideon Resnick: What else are you thinking?


Josie Duffy Rice: OK, so if they’re bringing back extinct animals, I think they should be tea cup size so we can maybe have them as pets.


Gideon Resnick: Hmm. That was This But for That.


deep, distorted voice: This But for That.


Gideon Resnick: Demonic. We’ll be back after some ads.


[Ad break]


Gideon Resnick: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Gideon Resnick: The Gulf Coast is getting drenched once again. Hurricane Nicholas made landfall near Houston, Texas, early yesterday morning as a Category 1 storm with wind gusts over 50 miles per hour. It’s now been downgraded to a tropical depression as it slowly crawls eastwards across Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and the Florida Panhandle. These are vulnerable areas of course, that are still trying to recover from Hurricane Ida, which swept through the region just two weeks ago. Forecasters say Nicholas could bring as much as 20 inches of rain in some places, and flash flood watches are in effect for the more than six million people in its path. Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Sunday in advance of the storm’s arrival and President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for the state yesterday morning. As of Tuesday night, over 220,000 customers were without power in both Texas and Louisiana.


Josie Duffy Rice: Gosh, just relentless for Louisiana. Just devastating. New reporting from New York Public Radio and Gothamist revealed that Rikers Island was seeing rising rates of self-harm and deaths in recent months, as the number of people incarcerated there grew drastically. In the past year, ten people have died, five by suicide, and advocates have argued that short staffing has made the facility unable to provide detainees with even the most basic services. And COVID-19 is spreading rapidly. The situation is so bad that the chief medical officer last week resorted to whistleblowing, going public about the crisis at the facility. Local lawmakers in New York visited Rikers Island earlier this week to pressure authorities to take action on the dismal and inhumane conditions at the jail. Officials overwhelmingly describe the situation there as horrific after going on a tour and speaking to incarcerated people firsthand. They are now calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to release more inmates in order to decrease the number of detainees per staff member. In other news, the Department of Justice is launching a civil rights investigation into prisons in Georgia, which will focus on the mistreatment of incarcerated people and violence faced by queer and trans detainees.


Gideon Resnick: The next time someone mentions the term “federal debt” to you, here’s something you can say besides, I’m sorry, my Uber is here and I have to leave right now. The US Census Bureau reported on Tuesday that poverty fell to 9.1% in the US in 2020. That was once government relief efforts were accounted for. That is below the 11.8% recorded in 2019 and in fact, the lowest rate on record. Almost eight and a half million people were lifted out of poverty last year, according to the data. And then totally, completely unrelated news, the $3.5 trillion Democratic reconciliation package is still taking shape, but it has the potential to take some COVID era relief benefits, like the child tax credit for one, and make them permanent. Some members of Congress have objected to paying for the package with the federal government’s money, which to me suggests they might be open to paying with their own money instead. I’m proposing we do a Bling Ring on their homes now and figure out the rest of the details later.


Josie Duffy Rice: I love it. It’s the American way. Senate Democrats reached an agreement on a voting rights bill yesterday, which is aimed at combating voter suppression laws in Republican states across the country. Named the Freedom to Vote Act, the bill is a Manchin-proofed—read: very watered down—version of the For the People Act, which got shot down in June. Senator Manchin is one of the bill’s chief authors, and it dropped some key elements of its predecessor, like restructuring the FEC and public funding for congressional elections. The new measure does set national standards for ballot access, but it also calls for the creation of a voter I.D. requirement, which would discourage voters of color and lower-income voters. Republicans in the Senate, unsurprisingly, did not express support for the measure in keeping with their belief that democracy works best when the smallest number of people are involved. In order for the bill to have any chance to pass the Senate without Republican support, big changes to filibuster rules will be necessary, which will inevitably give Manchin another chance to remind everyone he didn’t get elected to make friends and our resentment only makes them stronger.


Gideon Resnick: Mmm. Honestly, at this point, name all of the bills after Manchin. If he votes against himself, I’ll be surprised. And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go, America Dissected turns 100 episodes old this week. Congratulations. And to celebrate, you can join host Dr. Abdul El-Sayed for a discussion with This Land host Rebecca Nagle on how Native Americans were able to go from being one of the hardest hit communities by COVID to now one of the most vaccinated. Subscribe to America Dissect it on Apple podcast, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. That is all for today. If you’d like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, resurrect a wooly beast, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you are into reading, and not just the installation instructions on an AOL free trial CD, like I am, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. So check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Gideon Resnick: I’m Gideon Resnick.


[together] And Happy First Birthday, Rami!


Josie Duffy Rice: Aww. My daughter turns one today and I’m very excited.


Gideon Resnick: Yes, we are too.


Josie Duffy Rice: And really, it’s my birthday when you think about it.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Charlotte Landes. Sonia Htoon and Jazzi Marine are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran Me. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.