Byron Brown assessing next move after apparent primary upset

Local News

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – While India Walton traveled through Buffalo celebrating Wednesday morning, incumbent Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown did not have anything more to say following his apparent upset loss in the Democratic primary.

A spokesperson for Brown said the mayor had nothing new to share about 12 hours after he refused to concede the race, in which he trails Walton by 1,507 votes after the counting of all early and Primary Day results. Absentee ballots remain uncounted.

“Things are tight right now,” Brown said Tuesday night at his campaign headquarters. “They are too tight to call.”

According to Erie County Board of Elections officials, 3,034 absentee ballots were requested in the primary. Even if every single one was to be returned by next Tuesday, Brown would have to carry about 75% of them to make up Walton’s lead. As of late Tuesday night, only 1,536 of them had actually been returned. It’s additionally unclear how many affidavit ballots will be ruled legal.

Neither Brown nor anyone else will carry another line in November, according to elections officials. That means unless someone mounts a write-in campaign, Walton will take office in January.

Jacob Neiheisel, an associate professor of political science at the University at Buffalo, says while write-in campaigns are “notoriously unsuccessful”, there are a few examples of success throughout American political history.

He specifically pointed toward a primary for Ohio’s 6th Congressional District in 2006, a seat won by eventual-Rep. Charlie Wilson.

“Here you had the person who was the likely nominee, and given the composition of the district, the likely Representative from that area, not being on the ballot because of an error in terms of signatures in the petitions,” explained Neiheisel. “So that person waged quite a campaign and had a lot of support from leadership and was ultimately successful.”

Jeremy Zellner, the chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee, has already said he would not support a write-in campaign by Brown. The chairman says the party is behind India Walton.

In determining whether to wage a write-in effort, Neiheisel says Brown would first have to gauge support.

“I think he draws upon the support he has throughout his entire political career,” Neiheisel said. “That’s unions in the city and the surrounding area. That’s other kinds of civic groups that he has historically tapped into and the people who have supported him in the past.”

Brown was seeking to become the only person to earn a fifth term as Mayor of Buffalo. In three previous Democratic primaries, he won by double digits: 24 points in 2005, 28 points in 2009, and 16 points in 2017. He was not contested for the Democratic line in 2013. However in 2021, Walton appears to have come out on top.

Jack O’Donnell, managing partner of government lobbying firm O’Donnell and Associates, says this race is proof that campaigns matter.

“I think maybe there was some shelf life issue for the mayor,” O’Donnell said. “I think really the biggest issue here is that India Walton did a really good job of motivating voters, of connecting with them.”

“I don’t think it’s a, ‘Oh we should have said this or should have done that,'” he said of Brown’s campaign. “I think it’s broader, how much they engaged in the political process.”

Chris Horvatits is an award-winning reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2017. See more of his work here.

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