CNN and the Associated Press projected Ms Walton’s victory on Wednesday as polls showed her ahead of her opponent, Mayor Byron Brown, by seven per cent of the vote. If she goes on to win the general election – as she’s expected to in the deep-blue city – she will become Buffalo’s first female and first socialist mayor.
“This victory is ours,” Ms Walton said in a dramatic victory speech on Tuesday night. “It is the first of many. If you are in an elected office right now, you are being put on notice. We are coming.”
The results are a shocking defeat for Mr Brown, a four-term incumbent who has been in office since 2006, making him Buffalo’s longest-serving mayor in history. Mr Brown has not yet conceded, citing the many absentee ballots that still need to be tallied.
“We’re going to make sure every single vote is counted,” the mayor said on Tuesday.
If the results hold, Ms Walton will move on to the general election in November, which she is extremely likely to win. She has no Republican opponent, and independent candidates are having trouble getting their names on the ballot.
If she wins, she will be the first socialist mayor of any large American city since 1960, according to The New York Times.
Ms Walton is a 38-year-old nurse and activist. On the campaign trail, she frequently invoked her hardscrabble life story, including her experiences as a teenage mother.
“I became a mother at 14,” the victorious candidate tweeted on Wednesday. “The majority of my campaign’s leadership team is working mothers. People like us often get told we don’t belong in politics.”
She ran as an outsider, campaigning on progressive causes like protecting undocumented immigrants, expanding affordable housing, and limiting the power of the police. While Mr Brown had the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, Ms Walton was backed by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party.
“For too long, we’ve seen our city work for politicians, for developers, for the police union, but not for ordinary working families,” she said in a statement summing up her campaign. “In our city, everyone will have a seat at the table.”
Much like other progressive challengers in recent years, such as Rep Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez, Ms Walton ran an aggressive, grassroots campaign while her entrenched opponent appeared to be asleep at the wheel. Mr Brown has been accused of resting on his laurels during this election, and refused to even debate Ms Walton.
On Tuesday night, Ms Walton’s hard work appeared to pay off. A candid video caught the moment she told her mother the news.
“Mommy! I won!” she shouted into a cell phone. “Mommy, I’m the mayor of Buffalo! Well, not until January, but yeah!”