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  • Zeneta Everhart defeated India Walton, a prominent activist, in the Democratic primary for a seat on the Buffalo city council. 
  • Everhart has been speaking out against gun violence and racism in the country ever since her son survived the racist supermarket mass shooting that killed 10 people.
  • The politician says that she most likely would have run for city council if the attack hadn’t happened, but it still influenced her decision to run.

Zeneta Everhart, who became a voice against racism and gun violence last year after her son survived a mass shooting, won a Democratic primary on Tuesday to represent a Buffalo neighborhood near the supermarket where the massacre happened.

Everhart defeated India Walton, another prominent activist who in 2021 upset Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown in a Democratic primary, only to lose to him in the general election.

The two Black women had vied for a seat on Buffalo’s Common Council, representing an area of the Rust Belt city still healing from a white supremacist’s attack that killed 10 people at a neighborhood supermarket just over a year ago. That mass shooting was followed by a punishing December blizzard that killed 47 people in the city and its suburbs, with a disproportionate number of the victims coming from Buffalo’s Black neighborhoods.

“This is for y’all. It is for the community. This is for my community mommas. This is for everybody,” Everhart told supporters in her victory speech.

“This is about fixing our community and just showing people that there is hope,” Everhart said. “I don’t want people to lose hope.”

Walton was gracious in her concession speech, saying that she would be “graceful in defeat.”

“I think Zeneta is going to do a great job,” Walton said of Everhart.

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But Walton said she would continue her activism. “My intention is to keep doing what I’ve been doing: speak truth to power, to continue organizing,” she said.

Everhart is no newcomer to politics. She had been on the staff of state Democratic Sen. Tim Kennedy for five years when she received a call on May 14, 2022, from her son Zaire Goodman, then 19, telling her he had been shot while working at the Tops Friendly Market near their home.

Ten Black people died in the attack by a white supremacist gunman. Goodman, hit in the neck, was one of three victims who survived.

Zeneta Everhart

Zeneta Everhart poses for a portrait in her home in Buffalo, New York, on Jan. 27, 2023. Everhart has won the Democratic primary contest for a city council seat in Buffalo. (AP Photo/Robert Bumsted, File)

Weeks after the shooting, Everhart testified before Congress and has continued to speak publicly in the months since about racism and gun violence in the U.S.

Running for a seat in Buffalo’s Masten District, Everhart campaigned on the need for affordable housing, education and elevating the East Buffalo community whose social and economic challenges took on new urgency after the supermarket shooting.

Walton, 41, was trying to make a comeback after a rollercoaster defeat in the city’s mayoral race in 2021. In that contest, she stunned the political establishment by scoring an upset win over the longtime incumbent, Byron Brown, in a primary where she ran far to his left as a democratic socialist.

With no Republican on the ballot, Walton briefly looked like a sure winner in the general election, too, but Brown came back as a write-in candidate and won with the support of centrist Democrats, Buffalo’s business community and Republicans who said Walton, a former nurse and labor organizer, was too liberal.

While Walton remained a political outsider in Buffalo, Everhart, a former television producer, had been quietly building a more conventional career in politics as an aide to a state senator when tragedy thrust her into the spotlight.

Everhart, 42, said she probably would have run for city council, even if the attack never happened, but that it influenced her decision.

“Part of me wanting to run for Masten is about paying it forward because of the love that was shown to my son,” Everhart said during a phone interview Monday. “People are still dropping off gifts, leaving things on my doorstep for Zaire. And that, to me, means that I have to give back to my community.”

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The supermarket targeted by an 18-year-old white supremacist now lies just outside the district the two women are running to represent.

In interviews and on the campaign trail, the two candidates highlighted their different approaches to governing, with Everhart citing her abilities as a coalition-builder and Walton stressing that she’s willing to fight a political establishment she says hasn’t done enough.

“The Democratic party here in Buffalo and a lot of people in power know that I’m going to bring something different,” Walton had said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I’m not beholden to anyone. I have no political allies or enemies.”

Everhart had been endorsed by the county Democratic Party while Walton was endorsed by the left-leaning Working Families Party.

The two women have known each other for years and Walton said they hug every time they see each other.

“We’re not adversaries, in my book,” Everhart said.

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Buffalo’s 9-person council hasn’t had a female member since 2014.

Primaries held across the state Tuesday were selecting party nominees for a variety of local offices, including some county legislators, town supervisors, district attorneys, mayors and members of the New York City Council.

There are no statewide offices on the ballot in 2023.

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