Establishment Dems in Buffalo Unfazed by Sabotage of Party’s Mayoral Nominee

Recently, the left was confronted with a disappointing reversal in a tug of war for Buffalo’s mayoralty. The success of incumbent mayor Byron Brown’s unlikely write-in campaign in meeting the challenge of socialist upstart and Democratic nominee India Walton, who had bested Brown in a surprise primary win earlier this year, was almost as much of an upset as Walton’s initial turn of the tables. A Brown restoration via write-in had seemed so improbable — until the weight of establishment pressure (along with some unforced errors on the part of the Walton campaign) tilted the scales.

Now, in the wake of Brown’s revanchist triumph, left-of-center Democrats in Our Revolution, the political action nonprofit associated with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), have declared their intention to punish Brown for his subversion — they’re proposing that Brown’s position on the New York Democratic National Committee (DNC) be revoked in response to his betrayal of the nominee, which would have been treated as a grave transgression had a leftist perpetrated it. This warning, however, will almost certainly remain symbolic. To power, hypocrisy — when it’s in service of the status quo — is deemed a virtue.

A Slap on Your Wrist

Brown’s newest laurels (a fifth term reinstalled as mayor of Buffalo) come in addition to his existing membershipIn the New York Democratic National Committee he represents Buffalo Assembly district 141. He was also a chair of the state party until 2019.

Larry Cohen, DNC member and chair, Our Revolution has called for a campaignIn retaliation to Brown’s blatant electoral sabotage, they wanted Brown to be removed from that position. They described an intention to press other Democrats to issue this citation of sorts, contending that Brown, after all, actively subverted the Party’s nominee with his recalcitrant write-in, accepting support from Republicans in order to do so. As some have pointed out, Brown’s actions are, among other things, a violation of Democratic Party rules. It would not be unreasonable for another candidate to attempt a similar maneuver from the left. Expect a swift, merciless condemnation.

Cohen told Politico, “When you pull a stunt like this, somebody wins a primary, a working-class woman, and you go to every rich donor in both parties to fund a write-in campaign … it’s a disgrace.” Politico also quoted a statement from Walton herself, echoing Cohen: “Not only do I support the DNC revoking Byron Brown’s post; I believe it would set a dangerous precedent not to.” (Politico’s resulting headline initially deemed the effort “payback,” a phrasing that Walton took issue withIn a tweet. The headline appears to have been changed; progressives are now “taking aim.” The Wall Street Journal more vividly characterized it as “revenge” and “the long knives coming out” — in this metaphor, progressives are, of course, the Nazis.)

Brown still deserves a reprimand. PoliticoAs Brown correctly points out, it is highly unlikely that this will happen. Party moderates are content with Brown’s glorious restoration, the swatting of another left-wing gadfly. It is unlikely that any Democratic elites will entertain tarnishing the victory of a moderate candidate. Censuring Brown for trampling on the Democratic nominee — by political isolation, by making any kind of threat to his status with the application of pressures, whether grassroots or internal to the party — might at least have utility in discouraging future write-in gambits. The censorious gesture is not connected to on-the ground politics and seems more like sniping between moderate and progressive elites.

Walton is right, though, that the precedent Brown has set is dangerous — especially for the left, whose future primary winners will likely feel far less certain about the solidity of any victory, now that the write-in has been weaponized. Brown has shown that concession is a practice, not a law. Establishment candidates who are hurt by losing to leftists may now consider a (well resourced) write-in as a do-over tactic. Former Rep. Joe Crowley might regret that he gave up his seat to Alexandria OcasioCortez in 2018.

But Our Revolution’s recent overture, unless it gathers momentum beyond elite insider and NGO circles, seems, at best, a bitter afterthought. To venture that centrists might rebuke their recent victor in service of high-minded notions like “party unity” is to proceed under the idealist assumption that the Democratic power structure operates according to a set of internally consistent moral strictures. As Cohen is likely aware, rather, bigwig moderates are happy to cite “party unity” and cohesion (“Vote Blue No Matter Who”) when these ideals can be leveraged against the left. However, such lofty notions are quickly discarded when they clash with the determining material interest of power or capital: the real ideological pillars that make up establishment Democrats.

Hypocrisy is the default

For those not familiar with the dynamics of power, it might seem baffling that the Democratic Party would accept such a betrayal. Brown was, in fact, happy to have overthrown a Democratic nominee following a third-party line. to court funding and votes from Republicans in order to do so. It could be seen as hypocrisy to offer him a welcome back into the fold.

But there’s no real contradiction here. Centrist acquiescence to Brown’s seemingly duplicitous behavior is wholly explicable in light of the material incentives from which ideological and rhetorical justifications derive. The answer is that Brown’s revolt was not a betrayal at all. It restored a major player to the New York Democratic machine and is widely acceptable by major party elements as it aligns to the interests of corporate donors and wealthy donors, who are responsive.

Joseph Geevarghese is also the executive director of Our Revolution. Politico: “You’ve got the establishment Democratic Party trying to block the path forward for progressives, and it’s incredibly challenging and frustrating for the grassroots.” Capital and its emissaries were never going to allowA socialist should be elected to office. It was clear from the outset that they would go to considerable lengths to prevent Walton from assuming the mayoralty (including eliminating the mayor’s office entirely).

Brown was, to the point. lavished with fundingFrom corporate allies. They were most notable among them. numerous development interests that had benefited handsomely from his tax breaks and handouts to real estate, made in the course of Buffalo’s “redevelopment,” which was uneven, to say the least. During Brown’s terms, inequality continued to widen between the wealthy and the poor in Buffalo, where racial and economic disparities are “severe.” Brown had the backing of a friendly judgeIn an attempt to force his name onto this ballot, there were elements of local media who gleefully reported opposition drops against Walton on irrelevant personal issues: parking tickets and an old workplace conflict. Meanwhile, Brown’s demonstrable history of graft and corruptionremained in the background until it was raised.

The establishment’s tacit acceptance of Brown’s challenge — and its repugnance at the prospect of a Walton mayoralty — found expression in the professed neutrality of some prominent Democrats. Few in the party, likely conscious of the optics of sanctioning a nominee’s sabotage, overtly endorsed Brown. Instead, they made their tolerance implicit through their passivity.

The stubborn “neutrality” of Governor Kathy Hochul, State Party Chairman Jay Jacobs, and several other leading DemocratsWas not neutral in the slightest. Taking the unusual step of declining to endorse the Democratic Party’s nominee was tantamount to supporting Brown. Crystal Peoples Stokes, State Assembly Majority leader, went as far as to endorse him outright. Notable exceptions were the Erie County Democrats, Chuck Schumer, and Kirsten Gillibrand. However, they certainly didn’t rush to her defense. (Jacobs, also made a few unwise — and revealing — comments that implicitly compared Walton’s win to a hypothetical candidacy by noted racist monstrosity David Duke, which should illustrate the degree of his disdain.) These elites’ hesitance to endorse the party nominee is in line with a broader centrist revulsion at even the most milquetoast leftism, to say nothing of the raised hacklesRepublicans like Carl Paladino, a reactionary developer.

It is understandable that liberal power structures would prefer a Brown victory via write in campaign, however treacherous, to the ascent a nominal socialist. If they have the effect or bring about unity, then calls for unity can be considered appropriate. silencing leftist critics — but when a betrayal on the scale that Brown has just perpetrated happens to thwart the left, we hear not a word. “Party unity” is a smokescreen; fealty is only demandedIf it means following a donor-friendly agenda.

Osita Nawanevu, one of the Democratic strategists, is defining this agenda. has written in The New Republic, via an approach that might be called “popularism” — hewing to whatever policies are most “popular” (by arguable metrics) to, theoretically, win elections and restore the Party’s worsening prospects. Naturally, this means repudiating the left, along with movements like “defund the police.” There’s a sort of circular logic there that, conveniently, legitimates existing centrist tendencies. In the same vein, we’ve seen a “Team Blue PAC”Founded with the intention of deflecting any left challengers to Democratic incumbents. The party is still bitterly divided. Yet the overwhelming majority of progressive politicians and candidates in the U.S. are far from Marxist revolutionaries — even tepid social democracy is exceptional. The centrists insist that any failures at the poll box are unacceptable. can be attributed toEven the smallest gestures to the left are sufficient. These patterns are everywhere: Tack to middle, triangulate and compromise. This is how the country continues to ratchet to the right, calibrated for capital’s needs. Accordingly, observers have seized upon Walton’s loss as irrefutable evidence of the unpopularity of left policy. Brown, predictably, described his win to CNN as “a rebuke of defund the police, a rebuke of socialism.”

The real battle lines for the United States of America are not between Republican and Democrat. They lie somewhere between labor and capital. Centrist elites — indeed, the power structures of both capitalist parties — fall well within the latter camp. Brown might have been a traitor to the Democrats on paper, but he never actually switched sides. Although he had a lot of support from the unions, he was primarily the choice for the ownership class, as the electoral fracass in Buffalo has demonstrated. We might hope that he suffers some symbolic consequence — but it will take more than a token reprimand of one comparatively minor figure to combat the power structure’s abhorrence of even the faintest specter of socialism.