Appeals court says Buffalo mayor can’t be on November ballot

BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) – A state appellate court Thursday reversed one of two decisions to allow Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown to appear on the November ballot as an independent candidate after he lost the Democratic primary.

An appeal of the remaining decision is scheduled to be heard Friday.

The four-term mayor of New York’s second-largest city was knocked off the general election ballot when he lost the June primary to India Walton, a socialist candidate making her first run for office.

After the loss, Brown sought to qualify for the independent Buffalo Party line for the general election, but his nominating petition was rejected because it was submitted after a state-imposed deadline had passed.

In two separate court challenges, Brown and his supporters successfully argued that the deadline, moved because of the coronavirus pandemic, was excessively early.

State and federal judges earlier this month ordered the Erie County Board of Elections to put Brown’s name on the ballot, decisions Walton then appealed.

On Thursday, state appellate judges from the Fourth Judicial Department in Rochester reversed Supreme Court Judge Paul Wojtaszek’s decision, ruling that a “reasonably diligent candidate” could be expected to meet the state’s requirements for independent candidates.

“And because those requirements do not unfairly discriminate against independent candidates,” the judges wrote in a four-page decision, they place "only a minimal burden on the constitutional rights of those candidates and their voters.”

A federal appeals court in New York City is scheduled to consider Walton’s challenge of U.S. District Judge John Sinatra’s decision on Friday.

Elections officials have not said what they will do in the case of competing decisions.

Walton said Thursday’s decision acknowledged the state Legislature’s right to set New York’s political calendar.

“If everyday Buffalonians are late on rent, parking fees, or school assignments, they face consequences. There is no reason the rules should not apply to my GOP-backed opponent as well,” she said in a statement.

Brown’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The judges also noted that Brown, in holding elected office for 25 years, is not a typical independent candidate.

Brown, they wrote, “first chose to participate in the Democratic primary election in lieu of filing a timely independent nominating petition. States are constitutionally permitted to preclude candidates who lose one primary election from subsequently running on another ballot line.”