In this Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, file photo, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown speaks to the media after filling out his ballot in Buffalo, N.Y.
CNN  — 

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown declared victory Tuesday night in his write-in campaign for a fifth term. Brown lost the Democratic primary earlier this year to Democratic Socialist India Walton.

As of 12:30 a.m. ET, about 59% of votes had been cast for write-in candidates, and 41% had gone for Walton. Brown’s campaign likely accounts for the strong showing for write-in candidates on the ballot, but Erie County won’t begin to tabulate the write-in votes until November 17.

That makes it impossible to say definitively who voters wrote in, despite Brown’s victory declaration.

After effectively sitting out the nominating contest and refusing to engage with or debate Walton, Brown launched a well-funded general election campaign asking voters – this time including Independents and Republicans – to “Write Down Byron Brown.”

The campaign distributed a stamp with his name by the tens of thousands to help avoid misspellings and other clerical errors that might have tripped up his bid.

After being virtually ignored by top Democrats this spring, the race attracted national attention as a proxy battle between progressives and moderates in the fall. While some state Democratic leaders like Gov. Kathy Hochul – a Buffalo native – stayed neutral, many big-name state Democrats had backed Walton, including Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who noted in his endorsement that Walton “won the Democratic primary fair and square.”

Walton had called for redirecting $7.5 million from the Buffalo Police Department’s budget, an agenda that teed off a series of attacks by Brown, who accused her of seeking to defund it – a term she rejected.

“The stakes are dire and extreme if she was to get elected,” Brown said in an interview with CNN before early voting began. “She would take our city horribly back. She would compromise our public safety. She would raise our taxes. She would attack other elected officials up and down the ballot. It would be a nightmare for every person in our community.”

Walton, a nurse and community organizer, rejected Brown’s tactics and told CNN that Brown lost credibility with Buffalo voters when he refused to bow out after losing the primary.

“Every ad that he comes out with is an attack on me and making people feel afraid of me or attempting to do so,” Walton said. “An honorable campaign would be him sharing the plans that he has for the future of Buffalo. An honorable plan would be him owning up to the fact that he disrespected Buffalo voters by not running a primary contest.”

Schumer and Gillibrand didn’t go as far, but their decision to back Walton underscored growing progressive power in New York State. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and likely 2022 gubernatorial candidate Jumaane Williams, the New York City public advocate and 2018 candidate for lieutenant governor, traveled to Buffalo to get out the vote for Walton, and the Working Families Party, a New York-based national liberal group that backed Walton early, spent into the final days of the race.

Rep. Tom Suozzi, a Long Island Democrat, who is also rumored to be considering a challenge to Hochul next year, was among the out-of-towners to make the trip to Buffalo on Brown’s behalf.

“If the Democrats keep on allowing the socialist message to infiltrate the Democratic platform, we will lose. We’ll lose in Buffalo, we’ll lose in New York state, we’ll lose in the country,” Suozzi told CNN shortly before the general election.

“I won the Democratic primary,” Walton said. “I won because I worked hard. I won because people are ready for change. I won because Democrats turned out and voted for me. But we have corporate Democrats who are so desperate to cling to what little power they have left and stave off the progressive wing of our party.”

Ethan Cohen contributed to this report.