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Incumbents on notice after primary

Editor's Corner

Democratic Buffalo mayoral primary candidate India Walton reacts while watching voting returns for the race against Byron Brown, Tuesday, June 22, 2021 in Buffalo, N.Y. (Robert Kirkham/The Buffalo News via AP)

Within one week, India Walton who considers herself a Democratic socialist has changed the political landscape of Western New York. The once barely known challenger did everything right in winning the Democratic primary for Buffalo mayor on June 22.

So stunned was the campaign of incumbent Byron Brown, it did not know how to react. Once Walton was declared the winner, a dazed and confused attitude came from a Queen City politician who seemed so invincible. There was no back-up plan even considered in case of an upset, such as securing another line to be on the ballot for November.

Brown and his staff also decided to not campaign. They barely even wanted to admit there was a primary.

What a mistake that turned out to be.

Earlier this week, with plenty of fanfare, Brown announced a plan to be a write-in candidate. It was his only option to be re-elected.

That decision has already begun to stir the pot for what could be an interesting fall season. During a press conference earlier this week, Brown said, “Let’s be clear that until after the general election, there is no ‘mayor-elect.'”

According to the Associated Press, Walton then issued a statement calling Brown’s decision “deeply disappointing.”

“We urge Brown to accept the will of the voters, end this futile campaign, and help us work towards a seamless transition,” she said, noting that “the people of Buffalo deserve so much better than this.”

Brown’s lack of a plan, which appears simply arrogant, sends a simple message all politicians should already know: never take your constituency for granted. You may one day actually need their vote.

According to the primary results, more than 21,000 voters made their voice heard. More significantly, those who did go to the polls were on a mission. They believed it was time for a change of leadership.

Closer to home, a second look at the county results does offer a bit of insight. For instance, most of those defeated in the major races had a Plan B. Look no further than the heated race for First Ward in Dunkirk between Natalie Luczkowiak and incumbent Don Williams Jr.

After two years of alienating party leaders, WIlliams understood payback could be tough. He also created a line — People Over Politics — that would secure a ballot. Even though Luczkowiak won handily — with more than 700 votes counted — there is no easy street for November.

In the two primaries for county legislator, incumbents were assured the November elections would include their names. For Christine Starks, who lost to fellow Democrat Susan Parker in District 4 of Fredonia, she has the Working Families Party nod. Bill Ward, who represents District 18 but lost to Martin Proctor for the Republican line, also has the backing of the Democrats, according to petitions filed with the county Board of Elections.

After his defeat last week, Ward sent area media this notice. “Despite significant party committee interference, a healthy number of primary voters still support our campaign,” he said in an email. “While we didn’t get over the top, It’s clear that folks want to keep a legislator in office who works for all the people in District 18 and Chautauqua County.”

Being on the ballot, even for a minor party, is a plus. Writing in a candidate requires an extra effort by voters. That means those at the polls need to understand how to do it while being fully engaged in a campaign.

Brown has an uphill battle. Those who lost on primary night also face tough odds.

If anything, especially seeing what happened in Buffalo, the incumbents who are facing a challenge need to see the writing on the wall. There appears to be a voter uprising, even if the turnout was not overly impressive.

That means every candidate has to be on their toes. They are all on the hot seat.

John D’Agostino is the editor of the OBSERVER, The Post-Journal and Times Observer in Warren, Pa. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 253.

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