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Why Is This Happening? Why Is This Happening? Unpacking Buffalo's mayoral race with socialist India Walton: podcast and transcript

Chris Hayes speaks with India Walton, the Democratic Socialist running for mayor in Buffalo, N.Y.

39-year-old India Walton found herself thrust into the national spotlight when she defeated four-term incumbent Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in the June primary. It was an unusual win: Walton had never held elected office, and Brown isn’t letting go of his seat without a fight. Following the stunning upset, the current mayor launched a write-in campaign, and many of the state Democratic establishment have refused to endorse Walton, who describes herself as a Democratic Socialist. Recently, New York State Democratic leader Jay Jacobs even compared her to KKK Leader David Duke, a characterization that he has since apologized for using. Walton has now received the endorsement of New York's Democratic senators and she joins to discuss her journey from registered nurse and local activist to politician, why she feels the work of policing is “fundamentally wrong,” and proposed changes to Buffalo under her administration.

Note: This is a rough transcript — please excuse any typos.

India Walton: I grew up poor. I'm a working class woman, and I work way too hard for way too little. And, you know, a lot of my peers are strapped with six figure student debt, and they're being offered jobs making 30 grand a year, and they'll never be able to realize the American Dream as it's been sold to my generation of people.

Socialism means that, you know, we take care of people. It means that I believe that everyone should have healthcare, that everyone deserves a quality education, and that everyone deserves a decent place to live. I don't think that those are bad things. (LAUGH) I think that, in the richest nation in the world, we have residents who deserve that at every level, and that government's role is to serve the people and not the reverse. (MUSIC)

Chris Hayes: Hello, and welcome to Why is This Happening with me, your host, Chris Hayes. The year after presidential elections tends to be kind of a lull in electoral politics, but every year after presidential elections there's sort of three big races that happen that end up occupying a fair amount of political energy.

There's the New York City mayor's race that always happens the year after, and then there are two big gubernatorial races: Virginia and New Jersey. As I'm speaking to you right now, in mid-to-late October, those have not happened yet. But the Jersey race does not look competitive this year. The Virginia race, however, does, and that will be a huge bellwether.

But the most interesting electoral result of the year, so far, happened in the City of Buffalo, New York. Which, like New York City, has its mayoral race the year after the presidential race. And in June, there was a Democratic primary, and in that race, the four-term incumbent, a man by the name of Byron Brown, was unseated by a woman named India Walton.

Now, India Walton has a fascinating story. She's a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. She was a nurse, an activist with SEIU, which is the service worker's union. They have a lot of healthcare workers, as well, across a wide variety of sectors. And she came, I think it's fair to say, fairly out of nowhere.

Brown refused to debate her. Even really, you know, campaign against her. She wins this stunning upset as a Socialist, as a first-time elected office holder against this four-term incumbent mayor. Now there's something really interesting happening, which is the Democratic party essentially wants nothing to do with her, at least at the statewide level.

You may have seen there was some controversy where the chair of the state party the other day, when asked basically about, like, "Isn't it kind of obligatory that the party endorses the people that win their primaries in their election?" Went on a long thought experiment involving David Duke. You know, well, when David Duke won the primary Republican party, you know, the Republican party rightly didn't endorse him.

Which, I mean, is like, in a theoretical sense, can make sense as an argument. Then people were like, "Wait, are you comparing the young Black woman, India Walton, to David Duke? Is that what you're saying?" "No, no, no, no." Then he had to apologize. The governor, Kathy Hochul, is still, as far as I know, and maybe we'll find out in this conversation, did not endorse her.

And then Brown, himself, is basically running a write-in campaign to defeat Walton, who defeated him in the primary, rather than just accepting his defeat. And so, amidst all this, I thought India Walt who did win, I think, the most surprising and improbable electoral victory of the year, would be a fascinating person to talk to.

Particular because, you know, a lot of the other insurgent jobs that we've seen, particular, like, in congressional races, let me let you know on a little secret: it's a lot easier to be a member of Congress than it is a mayor. Like, you just go and then you vote, and, like, you're not gonna run anything. There's no, like, sewer system that might break down, and then it's like, "Well, what are you gonna do about the sewer, Mayor?"

And, like, (LAUGH) running a city is hard. It's very hard, okay? And, frankly, it gives me a pit in my stomach if someone tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was gonna run a city the size of Buffalo tomorrow. Forget, like, New York City or something like that.

And so I thought, "Wow. Well, India Walton's, I think, probably gonna win this race. Probably gonna be the next mayor of Buffalo. An avowed Socialist mayor in, I think, what's the second largest city in New York. And she would be a fascinating person to talk to." And so, India Walton, it's great to have you on the program. (MUSIC)

India Walton: Thanks for having me, Chris. I'm happy to be here.

Chris Hayes: Are you stressed about that?

India Walton: I am not. The great thing about being a mayor is that it also comes with lots of staff and appointments. And when you hire qualified experts to do a great job, and you hold them accountable, it's a set up for success.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. That's a good point, that you don't, like, physically have to repair the sewer. (LAUGH) It'd be like an engineer, you know, for the bridges or the school buildings. But, I mean, how big is the City of Buffalo?

India Walton: We're at about 270,000 residents in the city proper.

Chris Hayes: We're gonna do your whole story, 'cause your trajectory is fascinating. Your bio is fascinating, how you ended up in this position. But since I just intro'd you with this, how would you describe your relationship to this New York State Democratic Party, at this moment?

India Walton: I would describe it as pretty non-existent. I'm not a political operative, or power player, in any sense of the word. And when folks say that I came from out of nowhere, I didn't work my way up through the ranks, and I think a lot of the shock of my win is because I didn't work my way up through the ranks.

I'm a truly independent thinker. And my campaign was powered by a bunch of average, working class people without the support of the major party. And we were victorious, so I don't have an established relationship with the Democratic establishment.

Chris Hayes: Are you surprised that they have gone to the lengths they have to distance themselves from you?

India Walton: Not at all. (LAUGH) I am not surprised, and when we look at corporate Democrats and, you know, a lot of the power of corporate interests in corporate lobbying groups, you know, I understand why they want to distance themselves from me. But I'm not running to make friends with establishment Democrats. I'm going to work with everyone. I'm running to represent the people of Buffalo who duly elected me in the primary election, and I believe that they'll do the same thing on November 2nd.

Chris Hayes: I guess he's the current mayor, right? He's still the mayor of Buffalo, Mayor Brown. Is he actively campaigning on a write-in campaign? That's what he's doing, right? Am I wrong?

India Walton: So he's not only actively campaigning as a write-in, but, I mean, he's basically a Republican. He's taking donations from Republicans. He's using Republican talking points. A lot of fear-mongering and smearing, and there's sort of a Red Scare going on, right now, in Buffalo.

Chris Hayes: Just to be clear, he's not running on the Republican line? You're saying that his rhetorical approach to this is basically having lost the primary to essentially position himself as your opponent from the right, in what is a two-person race to his mind?

India Walton: Exactly. So he does not have a line. He's not on the Republican line, but his new independent expenditure was revealed, and it is a pack that seeks to support Republican candidates.

Chris Hayes: You're from Buffalo.

India Walton: I am.

Chris Hayes: Born and raised.

India Walton: Born and raised.

Chris Hayes: East side of Buffalo, I understand. What's that neighborhood like? What was your life like as a child?

India Walton: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). I grew up in East Buffalo, predominantly working class in a Black neighborhood. And, you know, I had a great childhood. I had some challenges, but, you know, I was one of those kids who had a happy life. A loving mother who worked hard, and I didn't know I was poor (LAUGH) because my needs were met.

My mother worked extremely hard, but we did get food stamps in heap, and I can recall times in my life where I had to heat water on a hotplate to bathe. So that's the beginnings of my life, and it informs a lot of the policy that I wanna put forward as mayor.

Chris Hayes: What kind of work did your mom do?

India Walton: My mother was a pharmacy tech, and is now a retired LPN.

Chris Hayes: And you had your fist child at the age of 14. Is that right?

India Walton: That's right.

Chris Hayes: What was that experience like?

India Walton: It matured me. It--

Chris Hayes: (LAUGH) I mean, I bet it did. (LAUGHTER)

India Walton: You know, for two reasons. Not only because now I'm a parent, but also because my oldest son was born with sickle cell disease. So now I'm not only a teenage parent, but I'm a teen parenting a child with a serious illness. So, you know, I knew I couldn't be reliant on social services and public assistance to provide him with the necessary tools that he was gonna need to live a healthy life. So it made me into a really hard worker and a strong advocate for the health and safety of my own child.

Chris Hayes: What was the living situation, or the care situation? I mean, obviously, you know, very difficult. I say this as someone who has three kids, and my first was at 32 and it seems, like, completely overwhelming, and under conditions of tremendous amounts of privilege. And, you know, I had money and things like that. Like, what was that care situation like for you at that age?

India Walton: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). When he was born, I still lived with my mother. And at a certain point, I decided that, you know, I wanted to go and learn how to be able to parent on my own. So I voluntarily went and lived in a group home for parenting mothers in a small suburb outside of Buffalo. And I lived there until he was almost school age, and eventually went out and got my own apartment. At 16 years old, I was living independently, and I have been living independently ever since.

Chris Hayes: I mean, just take me through, like, being on your own with a child and just, you know, you wake up in the morning, and that just seems really, truly difficult.

India Walton: It is difficult, right? It's difficult, but it is something that helped to shape me into a person who was compassionate and empathetic toward other people. You know, but I did the same thing that any other mother would do. I got my child up in the morning, got him dressed, took him to daycare or, you know, Head Start, and eventually to the bus stop. And then I took myself to school, and work. And, you know, picked him up after work, brought him home, fed him, bathed him, put him to bed, and we did it all over again.

Chris Hayes: But weren't you so tired all the time? (LAUGH) Weren't you exhausted all the time?

India Walton: I guess, if there's any benefits to having children younger--

Chris Hayes: That's true. 16--

India Walton: --it is that--

Chris Hayes: --it's true.

India Walton: --you do have--

Chris Hayes: It's true. Yeah that's true.

India Walton: --a little more energy.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. (LAUGH) So you're going to school? And then you're also working? And then you have twins, right?

India Walton: When I was 19, I gave birth to twins. They were born at 24 weeks. They were premature, and they spent six months in the hospital.

Chris Hayes: Oh my God.

India Walton: That's how I became a nurse. Having that experience, you know, I was often told that I should withdraw support. That, you know, it was very expensive to keep them alive, that the outcomes weren't going to be good.

Chris Hayes: That you should withdraw support from the children?

India Walton: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

Chris Hayes: What?

India Walton: The physicians. So, you know, their lungs were under developed, so they spent, you know, many months on life support, basically. And they were saying that, you know, it was expensive to keep them alive. That they were gonna suffer brain damage and would be disabled. And that that would be too much for a person like me to take on.

And I approached one of the nurses and said that, you know, I didn't feel good about the way I was being treated there. And she said, "If you don't like it, you should go be a nurse." So that's what I did. I went and became a nurse, and I went and worked in that same NICU.

Chris Hayes: Generally, my experience, people that work in NICUs is they're great people, that NICU nurses are particularly are kind of like a special breed of angel from heaven. (LAUGH) And just, you know, labor delivery nurses in general. I mean, my experience of them has always been just wildly positive.

And, you know, these are, you know, people who are both witnessing the most essential human miracle every day of their lives. And then also in the NICU, like, just unbelievable amounts of danger, trauma, sorrow. High stakes but also incredible reversals of fortune and happy endings. And a lot of happy endings in a NICU, with the current technology we have--

India Walton: Absolutely.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. So how did you get from that NICU to working in that NICU?

India Walton: (LAUGH) I went to a technical training program. I first became a licensed practical nurse. And by this time, our local children's hospital wasn't hiring LPNs to serve in that role anymore. So I needed to go get my RN. So I got a job working as a home-care nurse at night. And I went to school during the day. And it took me about another year and a half, but eventually I got my RN. And I worked for almost ten years at Children's Hospital.

Chris Hayes: And at this point, your twins are at some point released from the hospital. And so you're managing three kids now while you're doing all this?

India Walton: Yep. At this point I was already married. I was married by then, too.

Chris Hayes: Oh, well that helps. (LAUGH) I mean, well, I guess it depends actually. I take that back. It only helps depending on who you're married to.

India Walton: (LAUGH) Yeah. My former husband was a great partner, and really helped support me through, you know, the times where our children were little and, you know, while I was pursuing my career goals. So I'm very fortunate to have had him in my life during that time.

Chris Hayes: So you're co-parenting at this point, and you've got three kids. And then you end up in this NICU for 10 years as a nurse. What was that experience like?

India Walton: It was very rewarding. I learned a lot. I met a lot of fabulous people. But it also exposed a lot of the failures of the corporate healthcare system, and just the systemic racism and classism that is sort of baked into our system of healthcare. And while I was supposed to be providing care, you know, I noticed that children did receive different care depending on who their parents were. Depending on the type of insurance they had.

Like, they literally had a different plan of care dependent upon the availability of capital. And that was a time in my life where I really wanted to shift and focus on policy, and on having a broader impact on people's lives and the community, as a whole.

Chris Hayes: And so then you were at a land trust, am I right?

India Walton: Well, I, for a short time, worked in Buffalo Public Schools as a nurse. And after that, I was a community organizer. I worked on police transparency, criminal legal reform, and the statewide campaign to legalize adult use cannabis. And while I was doing that, I was a volunteer on a board of an organization that we had newly founded called the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust. And when it was time to hire our first executive director, the board chose me.

Chris Hayes: What caused you to wanna run for office?

India Walton: Just many years of working in broad-based coalitions, and proposing policies to city hall, and having no cooperation, right? In 2015, I worked a group of folks who did a community policing survey, and the results of that survey was 32 policy recommendations.

Everything from, you know, a public database of who police are stopping at traffic stops, and that demographic information to body cameras. Just things that would help improve the trust in community relationships with the police department. And radio silence. We couldn't even get a meeting with the mayor.

And then, as executive director of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, the genesis of that organization was wanting to do something with the city-owned lots in the neighborhood. There's more than 200 vacant lots that are owned by the city that the city wasn't maintaining. So we told them, "Give us the land, and let us develop it using grant funding. We'll find our own money, we just need the land."

And again, being ignored. And it all came to a head last summer. I don't know if you saw images of 75 year-old Martin Gugino being pushed to the ground by Buffalo police and having our mayor defend that. And just the lack of response, lack of compassion, and knowing that he would ignore a challenge and not take it seriously, thinking that he is just entitled to the seat of mayor and that he is not a servant of the people of Buffalo.

Chris Hayes: The Gugino moment, just in case people don't recall: there was an older man out at a protest. I mean, it was just him on the street in the shot that I've seen with a group of Buffalo police officers. This is during the George Floyd protest. Basically, he walks up to an officer in a, fair to say, non-threatening fashion. One of the officers shoves him, and he falls back and hits his head very badly.

And there's even a moment where it seems like they're just gonna move on, and then ultimately he's attended to. And he's hospitalized. He has very serious injuries. The initial statement from the Buffalo Police Department had been, I think it's fair to say, not particularly forthcoming about the actual details. And the video became apparent. I think those officers have been disciplined, correct?

India Walton: They have not. They were suspended with pay--

Chris Hayes: That's right--

India Walton: --and--

Chris Hayes: --suspended with pay.

India Walton: --they're back on the beat. I mean, if you consider a paid vacation discipline, one could assert that that may be the case.

Chris Hayes: So was that the moment?

India Walton: That was the moment. You know, just out of frustration, at the same time, you know, I was afraid for my four Black boys. Not only because of police brutality, but also because of community violence, and I was having conversations with my mother. And she was telling me I should consider relocating.

And I told her I love Buffalo so much. I know that there's something I'm supposed to do here, and I wasn't ready to leave. And I said, "I think I'm gonna run for mayor." And she laughed. But she made me promise that, you know, if I wasn't successful that I would come down and spend a year with her and the boys in Phoenix City, Alabama. And no shade to Phoenix City, but I--

Chris Hayes: (LAUGH) Wait, that would--

India Walton: --I worked really hard.

Chris Hayes: --that was the bet with Mom? That was the deal with Mom?

India Walton: That was the deal with my mother.

Chris Hayes: Well--

India Walton: Yeah.

Chris Hayes: --yeah. I mean, that would be quite a change. You just said something that I think is pretty important, 'cause I would like to talk about policing a bit. Obviously, you were active in the George Floyd protest, and you had been active in organizing around police policing police violence.

You said rising community violence on one side, and policing on the other. And Buffalo has seen, like a lot of major cities, a large increase in interpersonal violence. How do you understand what's driving that? How do you understand what policing should or shouldn't be about in regards to that?

And how do you understand navigating the fact that people are understandably scared and want security over themselves, and their homes, and their livelihoods, and the people they love? And also a policing system that I would think you would say is broken in Buffalo?

India Walton: Yeah. Community safety is a very complex and nuanced subject, especially for people who live in communities where we see a lot of crime, period, and a lot of violent crime. I think that, you know, my value and my belief is in the inherent goodness of people. And that a lot of folks are driven to commit crimes because, for number one, out of desperation.

We have criminalized and demonized poverty. So I think the first thing that we are going to tackle, as an administration, is ending arrests for crimes that are the result of poverty, of mental health challenges, or of substance use because we know that intensive case management is a lot more effective than incarceration in those situations, right?

It's getting to the root cause of it. Not punishing you because you stole. Asking why you have to steal in the fist place, right? That is the trauma-informed perspective that I bring to leadership, and I think that talking about accountability and transparency is how we get to the pathway of rebuilding the trust between the police and the community.

If police are allowed to act as if they are above the law, if they are on tape, you know, blatantly displaying misconduct and are not held accountable, how can the people ever establish a relationship that is trusting and collaborative with the police force? So I think that both things have to happen.

We have to address the root causes, we have to address poverty, we have to address unemployment in our community. But we also have to hold bad actors accountable, and encourage the fostering of healthy relationships between the police and our neighborhoods.

Chris Hayes: My understanding's that you called for a reduction in the police budget and a transfer of that money into other social services--

India Walton: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

Chris Hayes: --as well as, what you just said, that sort of policy of changing who police are tasked with arresting.

India Walton: Right. Yeah, so the funding that's been identified that can be reallocated into mental health first responders, and to homelessness outreach and other services that are vitally needed in order to free police to do the work of police, right? A lot of folks are complaining here about the homicide clearance rates being too low, and about the response time when folks do call police being too long.

It's taken up to four hours, sometimes, for the police to respond. And if they're not spending all of their time, you know, in traffic enforcement and responding to mental health calls, then they're free to respond to more serious calls sooner.

So, you know, that figure, that $7.5 million, is taken directly from a student that was produced by a progressive think-tank here in Buffalo. And it's primarily through attrition and the responsible use of overtime. It doesn't even include any layoffs or firing of officers, or shrinking the department. Just a more responsible use of the money that's already in the budget.

Chris Hayes: It's interesting to hear you say that, 'cause what I'm hearing from (correct me if I'm wrong) is that you do think there's a role for policing. You want the police to do a specific set of things and not the set of things they're doing now. Is that a fair characterization?

India Walton: It's a fair characterization insomuch as, as a society, we are not prepared for life without police right now, right? The North Star--

Chris Hayes: I think I--

India Walton: --of course--

Chris Hayes: --I would agree with that, but--

India Walton: (LAUGH) You know, the North Star, of course, is this Utopian society where we all care and love one another, and everyone's needs are provided for. And there's no need for an armed response to some of these things. But we're not there yet. So I think that incremental change, moving us as close as we can get, and making sure that people are protected and being realistic about our goals, and how quickly we move forward with these things, is important to me.

Chris Hayes: I wanna present the broken windows argument to you, 'cause I know it's an argument that's being made in the context of Buffalo. It's an argument being made in a lot of places. I'd like you to respond to it, right? So you're seeing this in San Francisco and other places, and it goes (UNINTEL).

If you decriminalize, or curtail enforcement of low-level crimes, right? Shoplifting from a drug store, or even shoplifting necessities, which is what happens at a lot of drug stores. Folks who are un-housed are getting things that they need to keep themselves clean, or brush their teeth, things like that.

The broken windows, you know, approach has basically, what you do as you encourage greater and greater violations of social norms, of community standards, and kind of unraveling begins. It starts at the lowest levels, and that unraveling works its way up to very serious crimes.

Serious assaults, interpersonal violence like the kinds that we've seen increase throughout the country. And so you're inviting, essentially, chaos, ruin, and disinvestment as people start to retreat from the city. I mean, you're familiar with these arguments. They're made often. But I'm curious what your response to that is?

India Walton: My response to that is that broken windows policing doesn't work. Not only does it not work, but we know that it disproportionately impacts people of color and poor people, and it's easy to end low-level enforcement, but what is the difficult part is providing the wraparound services and the supports to get to the root cause, right?

So it's one thing to make a policy that says we're not going to arrest for certain offenses, but how do you support the offender after that, right? And that is what our administration is going to be focused on. It's not the theft that is the problem.

It is the poverty that is behind the theft. That we want to be able to help get this person employed, get this person intensive case management, get this person mental health services if they so desire or needed, and prevent the occurrence from happening and repeating in the first place.

Chris Hayes: Give me a little bit of a window. I mean, I've done some preparation for this interview, so I have a certain degree. But maybe just set for people where it's at as a city, right now. I mean, obviously this is a city that I think is not dissimilar from other cities that had experienced periods of pretty rapid growth around an industrial and manufacturing base that has, you know, declined over time, and has seen considerable disinvestment. Where is the city right now in terms of what its finances are, what its sources of sort of job growth are, its levels of economic vibrancy and development?

India Walton: Yep. Buffalo is a typical Rust Belt, Great Lakes city. After de-industrialization, we've seen growth in service sector, healthcare is a huge employer here. Academia is pretty big, and most recently the tech sector. But Buffalo remains the poorest city of its size in the nation, the fourth or fifth most-segregated.

You know, we've had the first population increase in 70 years in the 2020 census, and that is the result of a lot of, not only immigration, but migration of folks from varying countries of origin into the city in search of what is a fairly affordable housing stock what is left.

But you couple that with, you know, speculation, increased rents, increased valuations of property, so it's making it unaffordable for folks who currently live here. But if you come from a larger city, if you come from Chicago or New York, you're like, "Hey, Buffalo's where it's at." So, you know, those are just a few of the challenges that we're seeing.

Chris Hayes: That's interesting. So an increase in the census population for the first time in 70 years? I mean, I can understand that that kind of growth comes with its own problems, but I think it's probably better than the reverse, right? (LAUGH)

India Walton: Oh, absolutely.

Chris Hayes: I think you'd rather have the problems of growth than the problems of de-growth and decline?

India Walton: Exactly. And the problem of growth that we're experiencing in Buffalo was that we have not had an administration that's prepared for that. There's a severe shortage of affordable housing. There's a severe shortage of decent housing. Most of our development has been top-down, market-rate apartments, and we're short on affordable units. And we're also short on, you know, infill, single-family units for folks to purchase.

Chris Hayes: Are housing prices going up there?

India Walton: Housing prices are going up. The last assessments happened now almost three years ago? Two or three years ago? And a lot of folks saw their property values double or triple.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. It feels often that, metro areas, they're either growing quickly, and growth is good. And that can mean job generation, it can mean there's more revenue in the city coffers for services. But it could also come with its own problems, particularly squeezing on housing. And we see that in very, very hot markets.

Places like Austin, Texas, for instance, and New York, San Francisco. Places like that. Phoenix, Arizona. Or, they're in decline, right? And people are moving away, and there's, like, a downward spiral that can happen from that, which is that, as you lose a property tax base, then the city budget declines.

It's harder to maintain services, and that can be a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy and vicious cycle. And it does seem like a real challenge at creating the conditions of something that is vibrant, stable, and growing, and also, like, affordable for folks. Which sounds a little bit like the challenge that you see Buffalo having.

India Walton: That's definitely the challenge that I see us having. And I think the solution to that is to actively undo the harms that have been created from years of systemic disinvestment and redlining. We know the areas where investments need to be made. We know the people who deserve a fair shot who haven't gotten one. And because I'm not owned by corporate developers, I'm able to make decisions that are gonna prioritize the people who've been left out.

Chris Hayes: Well, I wanna ask you what that means programmatically. I mean, obviously that sounds good. But right after we take this quick break.

Chris Hayes: So you were just talking about the need for, you know, investment. We know where areas of disinvestment have been. What that means, you know, policy-wise?

India Walton: Policy-wise, that means that we're going to incentivize the creation of infill housing for ownership. And it means that we're gonna work with financial institutions, if they are willing (and I think they will be). There is a law on the books called the Community Reinvestment Act.

And we want that to be used to get folks into home ownership programs who otherwise might not qualify, and just wanting to work with financial institutions to encourage alternative means of mortgage lending to folks who traditionally don't qualify, but also extending micro-mortgages.

There is a significant amount of housing stock in the Buffalo area. The market value's less than 50 grand. And those homes are typically un-mortgageable, but if we can work between the city and our financial institutions to provide micro-mortgages to folks who can't come up with $45,000, but who can definitely pay it back over time with a low-interest loan. We can get a lot of these houses put back to productive use and back on the tax rolls.

Chris Hayes: Micro-mortgages. No, I'm serious. I'm so used to operating in context of housing markets that are overheated, and/or over-expensive, that I don't I had thought through the policy implications of properties that are un-mortgageable because they're too cheap.

India Walton: Uh-huh (AFFIRM).

Chris Hayes: That's a fascinating space. That also seems like a real opportunity. I wonder, what are the finances of the city like, and do you plan to raise taxes?

India Walton: Buffalo is a city that is fiscally dependent. If not for entitlements from the state and federal government, we would not be able to fund basic city services. In fact, the sitting mayors have spent down $100 million financial reserve over the last decade, and if not for the American Rescue Plan, Buffalo would be about $60 million in debt going into the next fiscal year.

So, you know, it's an unfortunate state of affairs, but because I'm a transparent and honest type of leader, you know, I've been real with people in that we're going to have to see some incremental tax increases in order to be able to fund city services. At the end of the day, folks want their trash picked up. They want snow removed and roads salted. They want improvements in infrastructure, and to be able to walk on quality sidewalks, and have street lights.

And that is what we pay taxes for, and we wanna make sure that we're distributing the revenue equitably. But that the revenue that we're bringing is is ethical, that we're not depending on parking tickets, and fines, and fees that disproportionately impact poor people and people of color to pad the city books.

Chris Hayes: The critique here, and I've seen this, obviously, from the mayor that you're now in a sort of campaign against. Although, again, it's quite weird. And like you said I think at the top, that his messaging has been, I think, in line with a general conservative critique of socialism, which is you will essentially tax and spend the city to oblivion.

You'll be sort of laying waste to the growth that Buffalo has. This hard-won growth, right, that Buffalo has after 70 years. People are moving there. That's good. You wanna be a pro-business place, you wanna be pro-development, pro-investment, bring money and jobs in. And if you start taxing folks, that's gonna drive them away.

India Walton: Well, the tax increase is going to be incremental. And, you know, over time, it's not going to be a noticeable shift like it was when we had reassessments for the first time in a decade, and people saw their tax bills double. It's not that.

And also, the case that Buffalo is on the rise is only so in some parts of town. So to say, then, that the Socialist is going to be the person who taxes everyone, the city will wither away, is just false. The Socialist mayor's going to be the one who cares about our infrastructure, who is going to make sure we tackle our lead pipes through infrastructure bills.

Who makes sure that streets get paved on the East side as well as the West side, and that investments are made in East Buffalo, in North Buffalo, as well as in downtown. And that everything doesn't have to be a shiny, flashy project. There are investments that have to be made that are less glamorous, but are going to be as beneficial, if not more, to the quality of life of the people.

Chris Hayes: Since I brought up socialism just now, and obviously that has played some role, I think, in the national conversation around you. Why do you consider yourself a Socialist?

India Walton: Because I grew up poor. I'm a working class woman, and I work way too hard for way too little. And, you know, a lot of my peers are strapped with six figure student debt, and they're being offered jobs making 30 grand a year, and they'll never be able to realize the American Dream as it's been sold to my generation of people.

Socialism means that, you know, we take care of people. It means that I believe that everyone should have healthcare, that everyone deserves a quality education, and that everyone deserves a decent play to live. I don't think that those are bad things. (LAUGH) I think that, in the richest nation in the world, we have residents who deserve that at every level, and that government's role is to serve the people and not the reverse.

Chris Hayes: You know, there's a conversation that's happened recently about the current iteration of politics, and particularly left politics in America, which goes the following way. I'm gonna present it to you, and then have you respond 'cause I think you're in a good position to respond to it.

You know, that there's always been this kind of notion of, you know, limousine liberals or champagne Socialists, or radical chic, right? There's a certain kind of left politics that appeals to people that are actually quite privileged or quite well-off, or extremely educated.

It's something sort of sexy and vanguard about it. This has been a critique of leftists going back more than 150 years, obviously. All the way back to Marx. And right now, I think there's a sense that, like, actually the quote/unquote, "Woke language" of the left is alienating to quote/unquote, "Real working-class people."

And that all this socialism stuff is basically a bunch of, like, grad students in Brooklyn who are just, like, (UNINTEL) around on their podcast. And I'm curious, like, from your perspective what you think about people that characterize this moment in left politics, particularly Socialist politics, that way?

India Walton: Yeah. I think that, you know, especially among members of the Democratic Socialists of America, we intellectualize everything to the point of sometimes stymieing progress, right? (LAUGHTER)

Chris Hayes: Wait, this is funny. I set you up to knock down the critique, and you're like, "Yep. Checks out. That sounds about right to me."

India Walton: You know, first, let met just take a step back. I love my DSA family. I do. But we are a group of very, very smart people. And I'm not saying that average working-class folks are not. I'm an average working-class person as well. But I think that, you know, we have to focus more on the work that needs to be done and a little less on the theory behind it, or how pure the policy is.

You know, I got into a little bit of hot water recently because I said that police are workers. And, you know, I got some really serious backlash from members who support me. And I had to explain, you know, at the core of my values and what I believe is socialism, is people, right? And you may work a terrible job, but you are still working.

And that goes with, you know, stay-at-home moms and dads, too, right? Well, I guess I shouldn't have said it like that, but, you know, some people are in jobs that are fundamentally wrong. We can talk about big agriculture, we can talk about big pharma, but it doesn't mean they're not people. And I'm looking for a just transition for folks who work in the fossil fuel industry, folks who work in law enforcement and corrections. They are still people to me.

Chris Hayes: Wait, but let me push you on that a little bit. And this, I think, is a core and important political point. Like, do you think the work of policing is fundamentally wrong?

India Walton: I do think the work of policing is fundamentally wrong. But, you know, police themselves--

Chris Hayes: Man--

India Walton: --are still humans.

Chris Hayes: --the police union is really gonna be psyched about you, huh?

India Walton: (LAUGH) They already are.

Chris Hayes: You know, again, what you are saying right now, and I don't know what's gonna happen in this election, and I have no finger on the pulse of the median Buffalo voter, as I think you will not be surprised to learn, but, I mean, that's the thing about being mayor.

There's no permanent friends, no permanent enemies. You are in the room with everyone all the time, particularly in a city of, what, 250,000 people. You're gonna be in the conversations room with all these people all the time.

India Walton: Uh-huh (AFFIRM). Yep. And I'm gonna be their boss.

Chris Hayes: I don't think they see it that way. (LAUGH)

India Walton: Well, it's okay that they don't because they'll learn, and we'll learn together. And, you know, at the end of the day, I am going to work with anyone who wants what's best for the City of Buffalo. And, you know, like I started out, I believe in the inherent goodness of people, and I believe that the majority of people want to do the right thing. And I'm only going to come in to City Hall with a high expectation of excellence and of service to our community. And everybody else is gonna have to follow suit.

Chris Hayes: I'm asking this question because, as we were just talking about this, I've been working on a story right now for tonight's show about vaccine requirements. And there's been, you know, a lot of debate about that. You've got police officers rebelling against it. A huge showdown in Chicago. Today, the day that I'm speaking of you, the New York City mayor announced there'll be a requirement for all city workers, which includes police and fire who have been resisting. What's your position on that?

India Walton: I am a registered nurse, and I have worked a job that has had vaccine requirements for 15 years. I'm shocked that this has become so political when so many people have died, and I will be in favor of a vaccine mandate. I mean, you know, I believe in folks bodily autonomy.

I believe that people should consult with their primary care physicians about the choice that's best for them. But you are not allowed to infringe upon the rights and health of other people because you don't wanna get vaccinated. If you don't wanna get vaccinated, fine. Stay home.

Chris Hayes: Do you understand where the resistance comes from? You know, there's police and fire who have been a real bastion in this. But there's nurses, and there's teachers who have been resistant too. I mean, people are complicated, as you said, and socialism is about people. Every person has got their own stuff they're working.

And so, you know, there have been a lot of people resistant for a lot of reason. I'm sure you know some of them. I'm sure, you know, it's not like some alien group of people who don't wanna get vaccinated. They're friends, neighbors, whatever. Do you feel like you have an insight into that?

India Walton: I think that this has become a political thing. I think that the former president politicized COVID, and a lot of folks are tying their political beliefs to their beliefs about COVID, about vaccination, about healthcare. And it's really bizarre, especially when we look at, like, polio, measles, chickenpox, flu shots. This is not something that's new. Immunizations are a very normal part of our modern society.

Chris Hayes: How has COVID affected the City of Buffalo?

India Walton: COVID has, for me, exposed how beautiful our mutual aid networks in this city are. But it has also exposed the fragility of our systems of support. You know, there are so many people here who are already living in poverty. It has exposed a digital divide in our community.

Our children were learning virtually and couldn't attend school, and we know that, you know, there's a lot of our young people who are now academically behind. So we have a lot of work to do to get caught up and to right the ship.

I do believe that it's possible. But COVID hit us hard. We saw lots of small businesses close. We have a really robust community of local restaurateurs who have not been able to survive the pandemic. So we have to come back from this really strong.

Chris Hayes: How did you win that race in June?

India Walton: We organized. We organized.

Chris Hayes: Well--

India Walton: We knocked doors--

Chris Hayes: --I mean, lots of people organize and they lose. (LAUGH) If organizing were the determining factor, there'd be a lot more Socialists in office.

India Walton: Well, it was a combination of, you know, we took all of the people who were protesting last summer and turned them into door-knockers, number one. The second thing was that our mayor is so arrogant that he thought he just deserved people's votes, and he didn't go out and work for 'em.

And couple that with the fact that I ran as, you know, a self-avowed Socialist, attracted national attention, and I've been able to be competitive in fundraising and paid media. And now, this story is so amazing and incredible, that I'm also, like, outpacing him in earned media.

So, you know, all of those things together, I think an inspirational story. You know, a person who was authentic and who was having lots of conversations with people, and who keeps boots on the ground is the perfect storm. And couple that with a person who is inept--

Chris Hayes: I mean, I'm sure he would say he's not inept. (LAUGH) He's not here, but I mean, he's been the mayor for four terms, right? I mean, this is someone who's a very central political figure in Buffalo. The central political figure.

India Walton: He is a very central political figure. He's the former head of the state Democratic party. So his failure to not be on the ballot right now should bring into question his leadership for a lot of his supporters.

Chris Hayes: Are you a Bills fan?

India Walton: Absolutely.

Chris Hayes: Okay. (LAUGH) So here's the big question: did Sean McDermott do the wrong thing on the 4th & 1 against the Tennessee Titans? For people that did not watch this game on Monday Night Football, they were down by three points, they had a 4th & 1, on, like, the six-yard line. If they go for it and then they score (it's in overtime) they win the game.

I'm sorry. The clock is running down. It's actually in regulation. And they decide to go for it and don't get it on a quarterback sneak. And I have to imagine that the sports radio, and the papers in your area, have been talking about nothing but this for 48 hours.

India Walton: So have you ever seen Josh Allen run?

Chris Hayes: He is fast.

India Walton: And powerful.

Chris Hayes: Very powerful.

India Walton: So I am going to say it's very unfortunate that we lost that game. But I would've made the same call. My run for mayor (LAUGHTER) is a 4th & goal.

Chris Hayes: Yeah. Okay. I think he made the right call too. Although I do think it's a little weird the way that Allen tried to go between the blockers on the sneak. I feel like you wanna follow your blockers in that situation. All right. Well, India Walton, you will be on the ballot. You're name will be on the ballot. Then there will be a write-in campaign. It was really great to talk to you, a Democratic nominee for the mayor of Buffalo. Thank you so much.

India Walton: Thank you. It's been great. (MUSIC)

Chris Hayes: Once again, great thanks to India Walton. We should note the Republican Party didn't actually field a candidate for Buffalo mayor this year. Also worth mentioning that we reach out to the Buffalo Police Department for comment on the Martin Gugino incident and didn't hear back.

Why is This Happening is presented by MSNBC and NBC News. Produced by the All In team, and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to nbcnews.com/why-is-this-happening.Tweet us with the hashtag #WITHpod, email WITHpod@gmail.com. “Why Is This Happening?” is presented by MSNBC and NBC News, produced by the “All In” team and features music by Eddie Cooper. You can see more of our work, including links to things we mentioned here, by going to nbcnews.com/whyisthishappening.