Jun 30


What the primary vote tells us

India Walton upset Byron Brown in the mayoral primary thanks to strong support on the West Side while Brown's base shrank on the East Side. What does this portend for the fall?

The math of Byron Brown’s loss in the June 22 Democratic primary is simple. 

The mayor’s traditional base of voters on the East Side stayed home, while voters on the other side of Main Street — from the Lower West Side and Allentown to the Elmwood Village — turned out in comparatively high numbers and overwhelmingly chose India Walton. 

The result: Walton beat the four-term incumbent by 7 percent.

Ken Kruly is a political analyst for WGRZ-TV, publisher of Politics and Other Stuff and author of Money In Politics for Investigative Post. In an analysis for Investigative Post, Kruly compared Brown’s performance this year to the results of his previous four mayoral campaigns. He found Brown’s share of the vote dropped in six of the nine Common Council districts compared to four years ago. 

“He pretty well collapsed everywhere in the city,” Kruly said. “And he’s got a whole lot of homework to do now as he enters this write-in campaign.” 

Podcast: Geoff Kelly & Ken Kruly discuss the primary

The erosion of Brown’s base was most striking in the Masten District, where the mayor lives and which he represented on the Common Council for five years. The number of votes for the mayor in Masten dropped by more than one-third compared to 2017, Kruly found.

Dr. Henry Louis Taylor Jr., director of the Center for Urban Studies at the University at Buffalo, described the drop in East Side support for Brown as a “radical no-vote.”

“And by that I mean to say there were people in the Black community who couldn’t stomach Brown but didn’t believe India could win,” Taylor told Investigative Post. “So they just stayed home. They sat this one out.”

In Brown’s previous mayoral campaigns, Masten has been reliably stalwart for the mayor, even as turnout steadily declined. In 2009, running against Mickey Kearns, Brown got 5,805 votes in Masten — a flood of support that canceled out Kearns’s strong turnout in South Buffalo. 

This primary, Masten gave Brown just 1,668 votes. Brown won the district, but not overwhelmingly, as he has in past campaigns. In 2017, when Brown faced Mark Schroeder, the mayor took Masten with 68 percent of the vote. This year his share was just 55 percent.

Masten District voters stayed home this year, according to Kruly’s analysis: The 20.7 percent turnout there is only slightly higher than the 20.2 percent turnout for the race citywide.

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The decision not to vote amounted to a protest, according to Taylor, the UB professor. It was provoked by any number of complaints: against Brown’s policies, against his personality, against his long tenure.

“That protest no-vote in the heart of his constituency, which he had not really stirred, blew him away,” Taylor said.

Voter turnout was low citywide: The 21,469 votes cast on election day is 6,232 fewer than there were in 2017. But it was about the same as it was in 2013’s mayoral primary.

Brown’s declining primary vote total

Year Turnout %
Votes for Brown
2005 26 16,900
2009 37 26,314
2013 20 15,487
2017 25 13,999
2021 20 9,625
Source: Erie County Board of Elections.

Only two districts posted higher turnout than four years ago: Delaware and Niagara. Walton won both of them.

Delaware District had the best turnout on primary day: 33 percent of eligible voters went to the polls. They voted nearly two-to-one for Walton. 

Niagara District’s turnout was 22 percent. There the margin was nearly three-to-one for Walton.

Taylor considers that a sign that Walton succeeded in something other Black politicians have not tried to do: She united different communities of progressive-minded voters.

“Every other African American politician has attempted to tie themselves primarily to progressive forces within the Black community,” Taylor said. “She was the first person that really tried to build a multiracial coalition that was anchored in the white Left.”

Turnout and votes by Council district

District Turnout % India Walton Byron Brown
Delaware 33 2,880 1,509
Ellicott 28 1,808 1,611
Fillmore 12 574 763
Lovejoy 13 576 606
Masten 21 1,244 1,668
Niagara 22 1,654 588
North 13 579 570
South 18 694 1,138
University 18 1,123 1,172
Total 20 11,132 9,625
Source: Erie Council Board of Elections. Does not include absentee ballots.

Brown fared best in South Buffalo, where he won 60 percent of the vote. It appears the Brown campaign is seeking to increase turnout there in November: Since the mayor announced on Monday he would wage a write-in campaign, city workers who live in  South Buffalo — home base for right-wing developer Carl Paladino — have been passing around sign-up sheets, trying to collect commitments to vote for Brown in the general election.

“He’s going to have to go where the votes are for him,” Kruly said, noting Delaware — a high turnout district that has supported Brown in the past — may be irretrievable. 

So Brown is likely to focus on turning out support in the South District, Kruly said, while trying to reconcile with and motivate his East Side base.

Brown supporters started leaking potentially damaging information about Walton’s past starting the afternoon of the election. After a week of bouncing around social media platforms, those leaks are beginning to generate stories in the media. Taylor sees that as an effort by Brown to get the conservative Black middle class, many of whom stayed home on June 22, to return to Brown’s side in November. 

Taylor thinks that’s a risky strategy.

“If he goes on a witch hunt with India, because she’s a Black working-class mom, he runs the risk of that just blowing all up in his face,” Taylor said. 

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Nor does Taylor think Brown can easily coax his former base back to the polls by running on his record. Taylor is currently undertaking an update to the sociological survey of Buffalo’s Black community he published three decades ago, to determine how the East Side has fared in the years since — 16 of them with Brown in the mayor’s office. 

The perception in the Black community, Taylor said, is that Buffalo’s “renaissance” hasn’t benefited poor people of color or the neighborhoods where they live. 

“If he tries to engage in debates and other types of things, you know, there’s gonna be a mountain of data that can be used against him.” 

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