By Heidi Jones

The rollercoaster Buffalo mayoral race didn’t disappoint last week with two huge wins Thursday for the India Walton campaign: both state and federal appeals courts removed incumbent primary loser Byron Brown from the general election ballot.

Brown, the endorsed primary candidate, lost the Democratic primary in June to newcomer India Walton. A week later, he used Trumpian red scare rhetoric during his June 28 announcement of his write-in campaign, “there is tremendous fear that has spread across this community. People are fearful about the future of our city… [a]nd they have said to me that they do not want a radical socialist occupying the mayor’s office in Buffalo City Hall.” His write-in campaign has the support of Republicans and wealthy real estate developers.

Brown also tried an end-run around New York election law by submitting petitions on Aug. 17, seeking to be placed on the general election ballot on a new party line, three months after the state’s deadline. Brown had collected approximately 3,000 petition signatures to support a new “Buffalo Party” line for himself on the November ballot. About one-third of the signatures were collected by suburban Republicans, Conservative Party members, and at least one far-right extremist, Gay Thompson. 

Erie County Board of Elections rejected the petitions as not timely. Brown appealed to state and federal courts, arguing that the deadline was unconstitutional, despite it having been uncontroversial since the N.Y. Legislature passed a comprehensive set of election calendar changes in 2019. 

Brown lucked out by drawing federal judge John J. Sinatra, Jr., a Trump appointee, a former personal attorney of Roger Stone’s with close ties to convicted felon and former congressional representative Chris Collins. Sinatra represented a local pastor connected to Brown in a case involving a pay-to-play RICO suit against Brown and his administration. Sinatra is also the brother of Nick Sinatra, one of Brown’s best real estate developer friends.  Nick Sinatra and his companies have donated at least $11,755 to Brown’s campaigns, including $1,000 in June of this year. Brown filmed a PR spot (video) for Nick Sinatra while Sinatra owed over $1M in taxes to the City. The Brown administration dismissed the concerns of the county executive, city council members, and community leaders, “The city is aware of the situation and confident that full payment will be made quickly… Nick Sinatra has been a community-minded developer who has invested heavily in the city.”

On Sept. 3, John Sinatra promptly granted an injunction against the Board of Elections’ rejection of the petition, calling the election calendar framework “unconstitutional” as it applies to independent candidates. The state court followed suit. The Board and Walton appealed the federal decision, while only Walton appealed the state decision. On Sept. 8, the state appeals court issued a stay, and last Wednesday, the federal court granted a stay on Sinatra’s decision, and then Thursday, a few hours after the New York appellate court heard arguments and overturned the state’s lower court decision, the federal appeals court did as well: Brown’s name and new party line will not be on the ballot. The courts decided the day before ballots had to be mailed to military and overseas citizens, Sept. 17.

Buffalo’s elite are coalescing around Brown, a Black man, because they are afraid of Walton’s people-first platform. Walton, a Black woman, describes herself as a democratic socialist and is endorsed by the county Democratic Party, Working Families Party and Democratic Socialists of America

Heidi I. Jones is an attorney and researcher in Buffalo, N.Y. She uses Twitter to post up-to-the minute info and focuses on the intersection of Buffalo politics and right-wing extremism: @jamnturtl