BUFFALO, N.Y. — Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) on Saturday called for Buffalo residents to vote for Democratic mayoral nominee India Walton at a packed rally, declaring a win for Walton crucial for the progressive movement and even American democracy.
“Are you ready to elect one of the most badass mayors in the United States?!” Ocasio-Cortez asked the crowd at a theater in downtown Buffalo.
Walton, who calls herself a democratic socialist and would be Buffalo’s first woman mayor, defeated four-term Mayor Byron Brown in the Democratic primary in June.
But Brown, a centrist Democrat, is mounting a well-funded write-in campaign for the Nov. 2 general election.
Ocasio-Cortez, another political neophyte who defeated an entrenched incumbent in a Democratic primary, cast Walton on Saturday as the latest in a string of insurgent progressive campaigns that began with Ocasio-Cortez’s June 2018 victory. She recalled how many business-friendly Democrats declared her win a “fluke,” but are now pouring resources into defeating Walton.
“Not so much of a fluke anymore is it?” she said.
Ocasio-Cortez emphasized, however, that a Walton victory would further benefit the progressive cause by showing progressives’ ability to competently govern in executive positions, particularly in the kind of “post-industrial city” where the left has yet to gain as much traction.
“It is not enough for us to have victories in legislative bodies,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “We need to show that we can execute. We need to show that we can do the damn thing. We need to show that we can govern in an executive position.”
Later in her remarks, Ocasio-Cortez accused centrist Democrats — who often complain about progressives not rallying behind the party’s candidates — of undermining Democrats’ fight against the “fascist threat” present in the ranks of the Republican Party.
“Any Democrat right now that is trying to establish a precedent of not uniting behind the party’s nominee is playing a dangerous game with our democracy,” she said. “If you, especially as an elected official ― as a Democrat and elected official ― try to go out and undermine your party’s nominee, how can you ever turn around and ask people to support you when you are [the nominee]?”
Ocasio-Cortez also accused Walton’s detractors of unfairly smearing her because she is a Black woman. (Brown is a Black man.)
“I am sick of a Democratic Party that says, ‘Black women are the backbone,’ but they’re not the front,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
Walton spoke before Ocasio-Cortez took the floor, focusing her speech on her platform of improving access to affordable housing and health care, and increasing union jobs in Buffalo.
“A vote for India Walton is a vote for accountability. A vote for India Walton is a vote for us,” Walton said.
In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, a host of labor union leaders and progressive New York elected officials spoke in support of Walton, including New York state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Mike Gianaris and former gubernatorial candidate Cynthia Nixon.
Following the rally, Walton, Ocasio-Cortez and the other Democratic elected officials led rallygoers to cast their ballots for Walton on the first day of early voting.
Brown takes credit for boosting private real-estate development in the city, especially in Buffalo’s downtown area, and reigniting population growth in the city.
Walton and her supporters, however, argue that Brown has favored well-connected interests at the expense of Buffalo’s predominantly Black and impoverished East Side.
“A lot of what India is proposing would help the people I work with ― specifically, the working poor,” said Justin Haag, a social worker who attended the Saturday rally.
Leighton Jones, a health care worker, was at the rally because he believes that Brown has “been in office for way too long.”
Some political observers have questioned whether hosting Ocasio-Cortez is really helpful to Walton, since the left-leaning voters who appreciate Ocasio-Cortez are likely already in Walton’s corner.
But Buffalonians at Saturday’s rally were excited to hear from her and believe her presence will make a difference.
“There’s a bunch of people who would not be coming out if not for AOC,” said Gabriella Hall, a University of Buffalo student.