Kwanza Hall wins runoff to briefly fill seat of late Rep. John Lewis

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In this Sunday, Oct. 22, 2017 photo, Kwanza Hall answers a question during the Atlanta Police Foundation’s Atlanta Mayoral debate hosted by WSB-TV at their studios in Atlanta.. Crime and safety were the main topic of discussion during live debate. (Phil Skinner/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

ATLANTA (AP) — Former Atlanta City Councilmember Kwanza Hall won a special runoff election Tuesday for a brief term in Congress and will succeed the late civil rights legend John Lewis.

The 49-year-old Hall defeated fellow Democrat Robert Franklin, 66, in the Atlanta area district and will only hold the seat for a few weeks through Jan. 3.

Hall and Franklin were the top vote-getters in a September special election after Lewis, a civil rights titan, died in July following 34 years in Congress. Neither candidate won a majority, though, forcing a runoff that leaves the winner with only about a month to serve in Congress.

Lewis’ long-term replacement will be state senator and state Democratic Party chair Nikema Williams, who easily defeated Republican Angela Stanton King in November for a full two-year term starting in January. Williams and King didn’t run in the special election.

The 5th Congressional District includes most of the city of Atlanta, as well as some suburban areas of Fulton, DeKalb and Clayton counties. About 22,000 people voted, less than 5% of the district’s registered voters.

Also Tuesday, Sonya Halpern beat Linda Pritchett to replace Williams in the state Senate in District 39, covering parts of Fulton County. Voters in Clarke and Oconee counties chose Democrat Deborah Gonzalez as district attorney over nonpartisan candidate James Chafin.

Lewis died at age 80 from pancreatic cancer. He was the youngest and last surviving speaker from the 1963 March on Washington, when Lewis led the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. He was best known for leading protesters in the 1965 “Bloody Sunday” march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, where he was beaten by state troopers.

Hall and Franklin both contended that they could get something accomplished during a short stay in Congress. Voting on a temporary federal budget could be the most significant act that the winner takes, although there are still fading hopes of additional COVID-19 relief legislation.

Hall touted his experience on the Atlanta City Council and the Atlanta school board, saying he would make the most of his limited time working on COVID-19 relief and other issues. He linked his effort to Lewis in a statement after his win, noting that his father and Lewis had both worked with Martin Luther King Jr.

“This win tonight allows me to continue that fight and to work every day of this term,” Hall said in a statement.

Franklin and Hall shared similar positions on issues, but Franklin, formerly president of Morehouse College and now a theology professor at Emory University, also touted his moral leadership. He pledged to support Hall in a concession call.

“Although not the outcome we had wanted, I am pleased that our district will have voice and vote in the critical days ahead,” Franklin said in a statement texted to The Associated Press.

Franklin raised $282,000, including $65,000 he loaned his campaign, while Hall raised $194,000.

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