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Who Will Replace John Lewis in Congress?

2020-07-20 17:29:52

ATLANTA — Georgia Democrats were poised on Monday to pick a replacement for Representative John Lewis on the November ballot, reaching a decision less than 72 hours after the civil rights leader turned 17-term congressman died.

On Monday morning, party officials announced a list of five finalists selected from a pool of dozens who submitted applications over the weekend. The final candidates will speak in the afternoon during a virtual meeting of the party’s executive committee, which will pick a nominee. Whichever candidate is chosen will almost certainly win the general election, given the Democrats’ tight hold on the district, which covers a swath of Atlanta and adjoining suburbs.

The finalists are Park Cannon, a state representative who became the youngest member of the General Assembly when she was sworn in at the age of 24 in 2016; Andre Dickens, who serves on the Atlanta City Council; Robert M. Franklin Jr., a scholar of theology who served as the president of Morehouse College, a prestigious historically Black institution in Atlanta; Nikema Williams, a state senator who is also the chair of the state Democratic Party; and James Woodall, the president of the Georgia N.A.A.C.P. and, at 26, one of the youngest leaders in the organization.

The choice has fallen to the party leadership because Georgia’s primary elections were held last month. The seat is likely to remain vacant until the winner of the November election is inaugurated in January.

The process is being overseen by a committee that includes some of the state’s most prominent Democrats, including Keisha Lance Bottoms, the Atlanta mayor who catapulted to national prominence in recent months after her response to unrest in the city and clashes with Gov. Brian Kemp over coronavirus precautions, and Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the race for governor in 2018 to Mr. Kemp.

Still, some in the party, including Tharon Johnson, a longtime aide to Mr. Lewis, are calling for the committee to nominate a place holder who would resign the seat upon being sworn in, giving way to a special election in 2021.

After putting out a call for applicants on Saturday, 131 people wrote the Democratic Party of Georgia to say that they wanted to represent the district, which covers parts of Atlanta and seeps into suburban DeKalb and Clayton counties.

Being the Democratic candidate in Georgia’s Fifth District is tantamount to a ticket to Congress: Mr. Lewis won with at least 70 percent of the vote in all but one of his re-election bids; Hillary Clinton won with 85 percent of the vote against President Trump in the district during the 2016 presidential race.

The candidate will face what is regarded as a long shot bid from the Republican nominee, Angela Stanton-King, a reality-television personality who was pardoned by President Trump in February of her conviction for her role in a stolen-vehicle ring.

“We as Georgians are grateful for his leadership over the last several decades, and we honor his life’s work of advocating for justice and equality,” Ms. Stanton-King said of Mr. Lewis in a statement she issued on Saturday. “His courage and public service undoubtedly shaped our generation, and will continue to shape generations to come.”

Mr. Lewis’s death on Friday at the age of 80 has plunged much of Atlanta into mourning, a reflection of the singular role he played in the city as one of the last surviving leaders of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Mr. Lewis, who arrived in Atlanta in 1963 to become the chairman of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, was elected to Congress in 1986.

A crowd of hundreds gathered on Sunday on the streets around a 65-foot mural of Mr. Lewis on the side of a downtown building for a candlelight vigil that gave way to line dancing before the night ended.

Rick Rojas reported from Atlanta, and Reid J. Epstein from Timber Ridge, Va.


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