This story was written by Jim Heaney based on interviews by Investigative Post reporters with 120 City of Buffalo voters. The interviews were conducted at 19 polling places, located in all nine Common Council districts. Three-quarters of the interviews took place on election day, the balance during early voting last week. Participating staff included Layne Dowdall, Mark Scheer, Phil Gambini, Geoff Kelly and Nancy Webb.
The election for mayor of Buffalo was not a Tweedledum vs. Tweedledee affair. Byron Brown and India Walton expressed sharp differences of opinions on the issues and about each other. Their supporters did likewise in interviews with Investigative Post.
Those who voted for Brown cited his experience and development in the city during his tenure in office.
“It feels like we have a renaissance. There are a lot of good things going on,” Grant Graves told Investigative Post after voting at the North Buffalo Community Center.
Those voting for Walton characterized her as a fresh face with good policy ideas on addressing problems such as poverty and police misconduct.
“It’s time for a change and she’s got good plans,” said Sarah Metcalfe after she voted at the Tosh Collins Community Center in South Buffalo.
Conversely, Walton detractors cited her lack of experience in government, and some expressed unease with her embrace of democratic socialism.
Claude Moses, who voted at the Delavan-Grider Community Center, said Walton has “good ideas” but “she doesn’t have the experience to run a city this large.”
Voters critical of Brown said he’s been in office too long and hasn’t done enough to improve conditions in low-income, minority neighborhoods.
“I don’t really think anyone should hold public office for that long, regardless of who you are,” said Melissa Ponds outside her polling place on Grant Street.
[Update: With 99 percent of the vote counted, Brown held a 59 to 41 percent lead over Walton and declared victory late Tuesday.]
A number of voters expressed a lack of enthusiasm for both candidates.
Samuel Roberson, who lives in the Delavan-Grider neighborhood, participated in early voting last week. He abstained from voting for mayor, however.
Why not vote for Brown?
“All the money stayed downtown,” Roberson said.
Why not Walton?
“I can’t vote for someone who’s always in trouble.”
Differing opinions on Brown
Brown is seeking an unprecedented fifth term. Walton beat him in the Democratic primary in June and staged a write-in campaign. On the campaign trail, the mayor stressed his experience and what he said is the city’s improved condition. It is a message that resonated with some voters.
“I think he’s done a very good job of trying to get the developers to develop the city,” said John Sebastian of North Buffalo.
“Buffalo’s on the move in the right direction,” said a voter who declined to share his name after voting at Hutchinson Central Technical High School. “Whether that’s Byron Brown’s doing or not … I’m not about to test the waters.”
Added a voter from North Buffalo: “New is always exciting, but the steady hand brings wisdom along with the experience.”
The mayor had his share of detractors, however.
His long tenure in office rankles some.
“I just think it’s time for a change,” said Peter Nicely, an Allentown resident.
More than a few voters said the mayor has focused on downtown at the expense of neighborhoods, especially those on the East Side.
“In 16 years there hasn’t been a lot done for my people and my community,” said one Hamlin Park resident.
Added another voter: “He’s not for the East Side. Look around.”
Brown has attracted a lot of support, financial and otherwise, from Republicans and downtown business interests. That didn’t come up in a lot of conversations with voters, but those who raised the issue said it didn’t go over well with them.
“Finding out that he took money from [Carl] Paladino? Not good. Not good at all,” said Catherine Peters, who lives in the University District.
“I really liked the man. I thought he was doing very well,” one West Side voter said. “I don’t really care for [Walton]. But I voted for her.
“The fact that Byron is accepting donations from Trump people, Paladino, which I can’t stand, so that just drew me away from him.”
Assessing Walton’s candidacy
Walton ran an issues-oriented campaign that addressed poverty and police reform, among other topics, and that resonated with her supporters.
“I like her agenda,” said George Thornton, an East Side resident.
“I want someone who’s interested in lifting everybody up,” said Gin Armstrong of the West Side, “not just their donors, their friends, the status quo.”
“It’s nice to see someone young,” added another West Side resident. “She seems to be working at more of a grassroots level.”
Walton has never held elected office, and that lack of government experience was frequently cited by voters as a drawback.
“No experience,” is the way one voter put it outside True Bethel Baptist Church.
“I think it’s time for change, I’m just not sure she’s the right candidate,” one Brown voter explained outside the Gloria Parks Community Center.
“She should maybe try to get elected to the Council first before she tries to run the second-largest city in the state,” said Jack Eckert, who lives on the Lower West Side.
“I don’t like him either,” he said of Brown. “I think he’s been an absentee mayor for too long … but he knows the job.”
Walton’s status as a democratic socialist was criticized by voters in some conservative precincts in South Buffalo and Black Rock/Riverside.
“I don’t really like the socialists, OK? I like the capitalists,” said Peter Koch, who lives in the Old First Ward.
Democratic socialism was a selling point for some voters, however, including Metcalfe, of South Buffalo.
“It’s really painted in a negative light and I think what people are really scared of is not socialism but their idea of socialism. It’s really about a government for the people,” she said.
Walton has had some minor scrapes with the law, including the recent towing of her car for failure to pay parking ticket fines and get the vehicle inspected. That prompted some criticism from voters.
“That doesn’t help her case,” said one South Buffalo voter. “It shows that she is human, but it’s not a good look.”