India Walton, the former Democratic nominee for mayor of Buffalo, New York, is due to join the New York Working Families Party, one of the state’s most influential progressive groups, as a senior adviser for special projects.
Walton hopes to use her new position at the WFP to advance progressive politics in Western New York, shape state-level legislation in New York’s state Capitol in Albany, and assist the state WFP as it seeks to recruit and train more candidates like Walton.
“I would describe it as a perfect platform to continue the work that was started during the campaign,” Walton said. “The campaign is over but the issues still exist in Buffalo and Western New York, and all the places our electeds so fondly call ‘upstate.’”
With help from the WFP, Walton defeated the incumbent, Mayor Byron Brown, in the Democratic primary in June. But the city’s conservative voters and business community rallied behind Brown in an unusual general election, where he bested Walton, the only person on the ballot, through a well-funded write-in campaign.
Walton nonetheless inspired an army of volunteers in Buffalo, and a wave of enthusiasm across the state that she now hopes to translate into tangible policy gains for ordinary people.
“I didn’t make all of these sacrifices and our team didn’t do all of the work of exciting and recruiting thousands of volunteers and supporters in order to just pack up shop and go away,” she said.
Walton is poised to help rally support for progressive policies in New York’s state Legislature, where Democrats are set to retain supermajorities in both legislative chambers.
As President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better budget reconciliation package falters in Congress, many progressives see liberal states as an important backstop where they can continue to pursue plans like paid family leave and aggressive renewable energy investments.
“New York must rise to the occasion, especially right at this moment when it’s incredibly challenging to pass big legislation at the federal level,” said Sochie Nnaemeka, New York state director of the Working Families Party.
Walton is likely to engage in field organizing of the kind needed to, say, rally people in support of stronger renter protections or voters frustrated with the lack of police accountability in Buffalo and Rochester, as well as behind-the-scenes negotiating needed to pass new policies.
But perhaps more than any one tactical role, the WFP envisions Walton, a registered nurse turned community housing activist, joining a small group of progressive lawmakers and activists capable of shaping the left’s messaging in the news media.
Despite progressive gains in New York politics in recent years, the WFP believes that progressives too often must defend policies like higher taxes on the rich on the unfavorable terms dictated by the state’s business-friendly centrists who sometimes retain outsize influence in the press.
“India is one of the sharpest communicators that I’ve seen,” Nnaemeka said. “She’s able to speak to policy nuance and the anger, the hurt and the real lived experience of people on the ground.”
Walton’s hire also reflects efforts by progressive institutions to provide a place for promising former candidates to hone their skills and burnish their brands in between runs for elected office. The WFP previously hired Tiffany Cabán, now a New York City Council member, after her narrow 2019 defeat in the race for Queens County district attorney, and Charles Booker, who ran for U.S. Senate in Kentucky in 2020 and is running once again.
“We ensure that our candidates have the infrastructure they need to succeed and advance on the electoral field and then to continue to build the movement of voters who have rallied behind their vision,” Nnaemeka said.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.