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OpEdNews Op Eds    H1'ed 7/1/21

The Empire Strikes Back at the Left in Buffalo and Cleveland

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The two biggest cities on the shores of Lake Erie are now centers of political upheaval. For decades, Buffalo and Cleveland have suffered from widespread poverty and despair in the midst of urban decay. Today, the second-largest cities in New York and Ohio are battlegrounds between activists fighting for progressive change and establishment forces determined to prevent it.

For Buffalo's entrenched leaders, a shocking crisis arrived out of the blue on June 22 when socialist India Walton won the Democratic primary for mayor, handily defeating a 15-year incumbent with a deplorable track record. "I am a coalition builder," Walton said in her victory speech that night. But for the city's power brokers, she was a sudden disaster.

"This is organizing," Walton said as rejoicing supporters cheered. "When we organize, we win. Today is only the beginning. From the very start, I said this is not about making India Walton mayor of Buffalo -- this is about building the infrastructure to challenge every damn seat. I'm talking about committee seats, school board, county council. All that we are doing in this moment is claiming what is rightfully ours. We are the workers. We do the work. And we deserve a government that works with and for us."

To the people running City Hall, the 38-year-old victor seemed to come out of nowhere. Actually, she had come out of grassroots activism and a campaign that focused on key issues like "food access," "pandemic recovery," education, climate, housing and public safety. And for corporate elites accustomed to having their hands on Buffalo's levers of power, there would not be a GOP fallback. Mayor Byron Brown had appeared to be such a shoo-in for a fifth term that no Republican bothered to run, so India Walton will be the only name on the November ballot.

Alarm sirens went off immediately after election night. The loudest and most prominent came from wealthy (net worth $150 million) real-estate developer Carl Paladino, a strident Trump supporter and former Republican nominee for governor, who became notorious in 2016 for racist public comments about Michelle and Barack Obama. Walton's victory incensed Paladino, who made it clear that he vastly preferred the black incumbent to the black challenger. "I will do everything I can to destroy her candidacy," Paladino said, and he urged fellow business leaders in Buffalo to unite behind Brown as a write-in candidate.

In tacit alliance with Paladino while keeping him at arm's-length, Brown announced on Monday evening that he will mount a write-in campaign to stay in the mayor's office. Brown cited among his mayoral achievements "the fact that the tax rate in Buffalo is the lowest it's been in over 25 years." Then he began scaremongering.

"I have also heard from voters that there is tremendous fear that has spread across this community," Brown said. "People are fearful about the future of our city. They are fearful about the future of their families. They are fearful about the future of their children. And they have said to me that they do not want a radical socialist occupying the mayor's office in Buffalo City Hall. You know, we know the difference between socialism and democracy. We are going to fight for democracy in the city of Buffalo. The voters have said that they don't want an unqualified inexperienced radical socialist trying to learn on the job on the backs of the residents of this community. We will not let it happen. It will not stand."

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Norman Solomon is cofounder and national coordinator of RootsAction.org. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and is currently a coordinator of the relaunched Bernie Delegates Network. (more...)

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