Seven candidates vie to fill John Lewis’ congressional seat in special election
By Raisa Habersham
Residents in Georgia’s Congressional 5th District Special Election are heading to the polls today to select one of the seven candidates running to fill the seat left vacant after John Lewis’ death from pancreatic cancer in mid-July. The elected candidate will fill the late congressman’s seat for the remainder of his term, which ends Jan. 3.
This race is separate from the Nov. 3 general election between Nikema Williams (D) and Angela Stanton-King (R)one of which will be Lewis’ permanent replacement. Williams, a Georgia state senator, was selected to replace Lewis on the ballot.
If that sounds a little confusing it’s because it is. The seven individuals on today’s ballot are running only to complete Lewis’ term. Since it’s unlikely that one of these seven candidates will receive more than 50 percent of the vote, there will almost certainly be a runoff which will be held Dec. 1.Since the general election is held in November, this means whoever wins the runoff will serve for one month before being replaced by Williams or Stanton-King.
It’s worth nothing that whichever candidate wins in November, she will be the first Black woman to serve the district, which covers Fulton County and parts of Clayton and DeKalb counties.
The candidates for today’s election run the gamut of former politicians, educators and activists. If no candidate among the seven receives 50 percent of the vote, a runoff will be held Dec. 1, which will leave the candidate with a month to serve. Here is a look at the seven candidates seeking to fill the remaining term and their platform as you’re heading to the polls:
A friend to Lewis, Emory University professor Robert Franklin hopes to pick up where the late congressman left off and focus on upward mobility for young people and racial injustices.
“The kinds of issues that are emerging have social and ethical dimensions that John Lewis would have weighed in on with great passion,” Franklin told Diverse Issue in Higher Education last month. “I know the Congress and I know the district so I could hit the ground running, albeit a brief term, but speak truth to power and try to heal some of the divide and polarization in the nation today.”
As the Nov. 3 election nears, Franklin’s primary concerns are voter suppression and ensuring residents are protected against. COVID-19. To read more about Franklin visit here.
Like many who knew Lewis, former Atlanta City Councilman Kwanza Hall considered him a friend, a neighbor and mentor and, like others, wants to continue Lewis’ legacy. Hall’s platform consists of addressing seven key issues, including voter suppression, women’s reproductive rights and COVID-19.
“Serving in this role will not be a political resume builder for me. It’s not an opportunity to begin my political career,” Hall wrote on his website. “I believe it is my personal obligation to continue the legacy of activism in the 5th District started by Ambassador Andrew Young and Congressman Lewis. In this role, I will ensure Lewis’ activism legacy continues.” For more about Hall and his platform click here.
First-time politician and Atlanta native Barrington Martin II first ran for the seat during the June 9 primary but was defeated by Lewis, who served 17 terms in the district.
“Over the last three decades, there are many communities within the district that have been forgotten about and grossly underserved, ” Martin wrote in a Medium article detailing why he ran for office. “The people of these communities, along with so many others have become apathetic about their government and even their role in government, and instead of complaining about it, I decided to do something about it.”
Martin’s platform includes a plan for universal medical healthcare that would cancel medical debt. His plan would also divert funding from the military to allow for environmental preservation. The candidate also hopes to advocate for educators and increase the minimum salary for educators to $70,000. For more about Martin, visit here.
Independent candidate and community organizer Steven Muhammad cut his teeth in Chicago, but it wasn’t until he moved to Atlanta where his activist work began. Muhammad plans to bring an inclusive approach to solving the district’s issues that include businesses, communities and faith organizations. His platform includes addressing housing and criminal justice issues.
“We believe strongly in diversity. We want to diversify the city. But we don’t want to gentrify it. We’d like to see things happen on a bigger and better level for all citizens of the 5th District,” Muhammad told WABE last week. For more about Muhammad visit here.
The lone libertarian candidate, Chase Oliver, is running on a staunch criminal justice reform campaign. His platform includes ending qualified immunity, which critics say has made it difficult to hold law enforcement accountable when they harm citizens. In the wake of Louisville, Kentucky resident Breonna Taylor’s death, Oliver also wants to end no-knock raids and the cash bail system, which Oliver says punishes poor residents.
“No one should be in jail awaiting trial merely because they can’t afford cash bail,” Oliver said on his campaign site. “True reform to our justice system requires that all of us, rich as well as poor be treated equally in the eyes of justice.”
Read more about Oliver and his plans here.
“Able” Mable Thomas’ political career dates back to the 1984 Democratic Convention when she was chosen as a presidential delegate for Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. A former Georgia House Representative and Atlanta councilwoman, Thomas plans to continue Lewis’ work to renew the Voters’ Rights Act, and support renaming the act after her longtime friend.
Thomas’ plans for the unexpired term include extending unemployment benefits, support for seniors with a high risk for COVID-19 and healthcare reform.
To learn more about her click here.
Keisha Sean Waites
As a former state representative, Keisha Sean Waites is another familiar face in politics. Waites recently served as Georgia state rep for District 60, which includes Clayton and Fulton Counties.
Her platform includes a focus on transgender rights, advocating for a living age and creating safer communities. Waites also advocates for better regulation around healthcare costs and creating tangible solutions for climate change, including reducing fossil fuel usage. To learn more about, Waites, click here.