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Short-timer: Kwanza Hall wins race for remaining weeks of John Lewis’ term

Georgia Democrat grew up on same street as late congressman; his father was Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest lieutenant

Former Atlanta City Council Member Kwanza Hall won a special election Tuesday for the remainder of the late Rep. John Lewis’ term in Georgia’s 5th District.
Former Atlanta City Council Member Kwanza Hall won a special election Tuesday for the remainder of the late Rep. John Lewis’ term in Georgia’s 5th District. (Screengrab/Vimeo/Kwanza Hall for Congress)

Former Atlanta City Council Member Kwanza Hall will serve briefly as Congressman Hall after defeating former Morehouse College President Robert M. Franklin in an all-Democratic special election runoff for the remainder of the late Georgia Rep. John Lewis’ term.

Hall was leading Franklin 54 percent to 46 percent when The Associated Press called the race for the Atlanta-area 5th District shortly after midnight Wednesday.

Whether Hall actually gets to vote in Washington will depend on whether the House is still in session when he arrives. Lawmakers are not scheduled to be in beyond Dec. 10, but numerous unfinished agenda items, including a spending package to prevent a partial government shutdown on Dec. 11, make it possible the calendar will be revised.

The term Hall won ends on Jan. 3, when the seat will be filled by state Democratic Party Chairwoman Nikema Williams, who won a full two-year term last month. After Lewis died in July, Williams, who is also a state senator, was chosen by state party leaders to replace him on the November ballot. But she did not run in the Sept. 29 special election for his unexpired term. In that race, Hall finished first among seven candidates with 32 percent, followed by Franklin with 29 percent. Under Georgia law, candidates need more than 50 percent to avoid a runoff.

The Office of the Historian of the House of Representatives doesn’t keep an official tally of the shortest-serving members since there are many variables, but it is clear that Hall won’t set any records. Louisiana Democrat Effingham Lawrence served in the House for just one day — March 3, 1875 — the last day of the 43rd session of Congress.

In an Oct. 25 letter posted on his campaign website, Hall had asked Franklin to withdraw from the runoff race to “unify us immediately.” He also noted that the runoff would be an “expensive, distracting, and unnecessary campaign — one that will only leave us with no vote, no voice, and missed opportunities for economic development and constituent services.”

Besides serving on the Atlanta City Council, Hall has also been a member of the city’s Board of Education and ran unsuccessfully for Atlanta mayor in 2017.

Agenda includes stimulus, justice bills

Despite his limited time in Congress, Hall has an ambitious agenda. He expects to push hard for a coronavirus stimulus measure that would include relief checks. 

On judicial issues, he hopes to see marijuana removed from federal controlled substance lists and provide a process for expunging marijuana-related convictions. He also wants to focus on voter rights.

Hall grew up on the same street as Lewis and says the families knew each other well. After Lewis’ death, he thought about running for the full two-year term but said Williams’ candidacy seemed like a “done deal with the people in the party.” 

Hall says he became a public servant because of Lewis and former congressman and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young. He says the two men were inspirations to him in the “fight for justice” and he wants to inspire the next generation of leaders to continue their legacy.

According to the Atlanta Business Chronicle, Hall took two MARTA trains and two buses daily from his residence in Atlanta’s west side to attend a school with a top-notch science and math program for gifted children. He went on to attend MIT on a scholarship, though he did not graduate.

Hall, whose father was Martin Luther King Jr.’s youngest lieutenant, owns an innovation and real estate consulting business focusing on community and economic development. He says he will go back to it after his term ends. 

When asked if he wants to use his time in Congress as a stepping stone for future runs for office, Hall said, “Never say never. It does open some doors up. … I’m open to what’s in front of me, but I really have begun to chart a course into business.”

Short-timer members uncommon 

Hall is just the fourth member of Congress in the past 50 years to win a special election for an unexpired term without serving in the succeeding Congress. But the phenomenon seems to be happening more often, with two other instances in the past decade.

Two years ago, Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones won a special election Democratic primary for the remainder of the late Michigan Rep. John Conyers Jr.’s term but lost the primary for a full term on the same ballot to Rashida Tlaib. Jones went on to win the special general election in November.

In 2012, David A. Curson, also a Michigan Democrat, won a special election to fill the remainder of GOP Rep. Thaddeus McCotter’s term after he resigned. Curson was not a candidate in the general election. 

And in 2006, Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs won a special election in Texas to fill House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s term after he was indicted and resigned. Sekula-Gibbs lost the same day’s general election as a write-in candidate to Democrat Nick Lampson, who did not run in the special election.

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