One nearly became Buffalo’s first female mayor. The other was thrust into prominence after her son survived a racist mass shooting.
Democrats India Walton and Zeneta Everhart consider themselves political allies but they are pitted against each other in a race for a seat on Buffalo’s Common Council, one of many local government offices at stake in primary elections being held across New York on Tuesday.
The two Black women are vying to represent a part of the Rust Belt city still healing from a white supremacist’s attack that killed 10 people at a neighborhood supermarket just over a year ago. That mass shooting was followed by a punishing December blizzard that killed 47 people in the city and its suburbs, with a disproportionate number of the victims coming from Buffalo’s Black neighborhoods.
Walton, 41, is trying to make a comeback after a rollercoaster defeat in the city’s mayoral race in 2021. In that contest, she stunned the political establishment by scoring an upset win over the longtime incumbent, Byron Brown, in a primary where she ran far to his left as a democratic socialist.
With no Republican on the ballot, Walton briefly looked like a sure winner in the general election, too, but Brown came back as a write-in candidate and won with the support of centrist Democrats, Buffalo’s business community and Republicans who said Walton, a former nurse and labor organizer, was too liberal.
While Walton remains a political outsider in Buffalo, Everhart, a former television producer, had been quietly building a more conventional career in politics as an aide to a state senator when tragedy thrust her into the spotlight.
Weeks later, Everhart testified before Congress, telling members that some shrapnel will be left in her son’s body for the rest of his life. She’s continued to speak publicly in the months since about racism and gun violence in the U.S.
Everhart, 42, said Monday that she probably would have run for the seat, representing Buffalo’s Masten district, even if the attack never happened, but that it influenced her decision.
“Part of me wanting to run for Masten is about paying it forward because of the love that was shown to my son,” Everhart said during a phone interview. “People are still dropping off gifts, leaving things on my doorstep for Zaire. And that, to me, means that I have to give back to my community.”
The supermarket targeted by an 18-year-old white supremacist now lies just outside the district the two women are running to represent.
Walton could not be reached for an interview Monday. In interviews and on the campaign trail, the two candidates have highlighted their different approaches to governing, with Walton stressing that she’s willing to fight a political establishment she says hasn’t done enough, and Everhart citing her abilities as a coalition-builder.
Everhart has been endorsed by the county Democratic Party while Walton has been endorsed by the left-leaning Working Families Party.
The two women have known each other for years and have expressed respect for each other.
“We’re not adversaries, in my book,” Everhart said.
Primaries held across the state Tuesday will select party nominees for a variety of local offices, including some county legislators, town supervisors, district attorneys, mayors and members of the New York City Council.
There are no statewide offices on the ballot in 2023.