By Peter Szekely and Nathan Layne
NEW YORK (Reuters) - India Walton, a left-leaning political novice, appears to have unseated the four-term mayor of Buffalo, New York state's second largest city, in an upset that she said was only a first step in overhauling the politics of the upstate region.
Also in western New York, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren was defeated handily by city council member Malik Evans. Warren was under fire for her administration's handling of the death of a Black man in police custody last year.
With mail-in and absentee ballots yet to be counted in the Buffalo race, Walton led Mayor Byron Brown by 52% to 45% in a Democratic primary that drew an unofficial total turnout of fewer than 22,000 voters. A third candidate drew 3%.
"We set out to not only change Buffalo, but to change the way progressive politics are viewed in upstate New York," Walton, 38, a school nurse, told cheering supporters late on Tuesday.
Brown, whose 16 years as Buffalo's mayor culminated a long career as a Democratic party stalwart, refused to concede.
"Things are very tight now," Brown, 62, told supporters. "They are too tight to call, and we're going to make sure that each and every vote - that every single vote is counted."
The Erie County Board of Elections said it would report the official election results within 25 days. The Buffalo News reported that 1,536 absentee ballots, barely more than Walton's roughly 1,500-vote margin over Brown, were returned by Tuesday.
The winner of the Democratic primary is favored to prevail in the November election. Only one other candidate, an independent, has filed to run for mayor in the general election, and his petitions are currently being challenged, the News reported.
Walton has called for ending a police role in mental health calls, while Evans campaigned on an anti-crime platform in Rochester, as did Eric Adams, who was leading the voting in New York City's Democratic mayoral primary.
Walton, who received campaign support from the progressive Working Families Party, vowed to make her campaign the start of a left-leaning movement in the region.
"This is about building the infrastructure to challenge every damn seat," she said. "All that we are doing in this moment is claiming what is rightfully ours."
In Rochester, Evans' victory all but assures that he will become mayor of New York's third-largest city, which heavily leans Democratic.
Warren faced growing calls for her resignation amid sometimes violent protests last summer following release of body-camera footage showing Daniel Prude's encounter with police in March 2020.
Prude, who appeared to be suffering from mental distress, died from asphyxiation after he was restrained against the ground and a mesh hood was placed over his head. It took months to release the footage, sparking allegations of a cover-up and prompting the city's police chief to step down.
Warren's candidacy was further challenged by her indictment on felony campaign finance charges and the arrest of her husband on drugs and weapons charges last month.
Rochester's rising murder rate was also an important issue in the race. Evans has proposed appointing a gun czar to work with federal and state officials to curb the flow of illegal guns thought to be a factor in the city's homicide spike.
(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Nathan Layne in Wilton, Connecticut; Editing by Bill Berkrot)