The thing about June primaries is that it can make the rest of the political year anti-climactic. In Erie County in 2021 things might be different.
The Working Families Party got things rolling earlier this year when they flubbed the process for qualifying their candidate for Mayor of Buffalo, India Walton, by failing to have her file an Acceptance of Designation form with the Erie County Board of Elections. The screw-up kept her from being on the party’s November election ballot. As things are shaping up none of that mattered. The party organization was a major part of efforts that won Walton the Democratic nomination for Mayor of Buffalo.
To say that most political observers (including me) did not see this coming is the understatement of the year. The Walton campaign did their homework and performed the hard work. Mayor Byron Brown and his people were caught napping. Where’s Steve Casey when you need him?
There are approximately 156,000 registered voters in the City of Buffalo, 106,417 of which are Democrats. There were 21,469 votes cast in the Democratic primary with perhaps another couple thousand absentee ballots to count.
Walton received 11,132 votes in early voting and on primary day. Assume she may receive several hundred more votes when the absentees are counted. That will leave her with about 12,000 votes – less than eight percent of the registered voters in the city.
Byron Brown has not as of this writing conceded. He wants every vote counted. He has no minor or independent political line to run on in November. He could run a write-in campaign – a very hard proposition for an organization that seems to have run out of gas. Nonetheless the possibility is under active consideration in some quarters.
In the meantime India Walton will operate under a six month transition into the office of mayor. No political candidate has ever in memory had a six month transition into office. If Brown does decide to run a write-in campaign she will have to set her team in motion again. In a fall campaign, however, she will not have the luxury of having her plans for the office mostly ignored by the general public.
She is a Democratic socialist, a somewhat undefined term. What will she do about the city’s financial problems? What about property taxes and fees? How will she change the police department? Given the Buffalo Teachers’ Federation’s endorsement she received, how will she try to involve herself in the Buffalo School System given that there is no legal role for the mayor?
The Common Council’s nine members have generally been in lock step with Mayor Brown. How will they work with her?
At this point in time there are more questions than answers. We will see how things evolve over the next several months.
Besides the primary for mayor there were major contests for the Democratic and Republican nominations for Erie County sheriff. In both primaries party leadership took it on the chin.
The winner of the Democratic primary for sheriff, Kim Beaty, built up a lead in the city, aided by the mayoral primary turnout. The party’s endorsed candidate, Brian Gould, was not able to make up any ground in the suburbs. Less than 18,000 votes were cast in the Democratic sheriff’s primary in the county outside of Buffalo. That’s a turnout of nine percent.
The Republican Party primary for sheriff was a blow-out for John Garcia. The Party seemed to have a problem running a primary. They trotted out the endorsements of party luminaries for Karen Healy-Case, but they did not seem to match the support Garcia was receiving from incumbent Sheriff Tim Howard and former Sheriff (and current State Senator) Pat Gallivan. Countywide Republican turnout was just 12 percent.
The Conservative Party also took it on the chin on Tuesday. The Party endorsed Healy-Case before the Republicans did and in fact the Republicans used that move to solidify party support for Healy-Case. Now, at least for the moment, Healy-Case remains on the ballot and is saying she will run through November. There is a lot of talk about some new state legislation awaiting Governor Andrew Cuomo’s signature that would allow her to easily exit the ticket and allow the Conservatives to substitute Garcia. There is also an open slot for the Town Council in Clarence, where Healy-Case resides. She might be able to exit the ticket for sheriff if she is nominated for the Council.
The Republicans and Conservatives will now try to make amends with Garcia. Beaty and Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner will have to consider what their relationship will be going forward considering the less-than-friendly atmosphere of the primary.
Erie County has not elected a Democrat as sheriff since Tom Higgins won in 1993. Bernie Tolbert was nearly elected in 2017 but low turnout in Buffalo sank his campaign. Beaty will face the same challenge.
The 2021 primary elections in Erie County have resulted in the most amazing set of results imaginable and the way the table is set for November all sorts of difficulties and craziness among the candidates will continue unabated. But there is a second set of complications that from a political observer’s point of view could be equally interesting.
The leadership of the Democratic, Republican and Conservative Parties was on full display during this primary and the results were generally poor. The Democrats seem to have accepted the Brown team’s lackadaisical effort as appropriate for the campaign and are now left to deal with the challenge that Walton has presented to all of the party’s other elected officials. They will also need to come up with a strategy for dealing with Walton’s socialist agenda, which will likely boomerang throughout the county.
The Conservatives, for the second year in a row (with their support of Beth Parlato for Congress in 2020), wound up choosing the wrong candidate and complicating the November election process for their allies in the Republican Party.
Jeremy Zellner and Ralph Lorigo’s chairmanships are safe, although when the biennial party reorganizations come along next year challenges to their leadership could develop.
The Republican Party Chairman, Karl Simmeth, could be on shakier ground. Republicans don’t have primaries very often so this year’s event was difficult for them handle – lots of mean and nasty shots thrown around leaving lingering bad feelings. Can they make nice until at least November or does someone get thrown under the bus?
Buy more popcorn. The show’s second act is about to begin.