(The Center Square) – The Democratic Party of Georgia selected its chairwoman, state Sen. Nikema Williams, to replace U.S. Rep. John Lewis as the party’s nominee for the 5th Congressional District in the general election in November.
During an executive meeting Monday, the party’s nomination committee overwhelmingly voted in favor of Williams, D-Atlanta, to fill the ballot spot left vacant after Lewis' death Friday.
“As a party, we remain committed to upholding Congressman Lewis’ legacy of fighting for justice and for free and fair elections for every Georgian," said Scott Hogan, the party's executive director. "We acknowledge that despite our best efforts here, both law and circumstance require us to use a system that falls short of a full district-wide election to ensure that we have a strong Democratic nominee on the ballot in November."
Georgia law calls for a replacement to be selected by the party by 4 p.m. on the business day following the death of a nominee for the district, which covers Atlanta and parts of the surrounding areas.
Lewis, who held the seat for 33 years, died Friday after a battle with pancreatic cancer. He left behind a storied career, which included playing an important role in the civil rights movement.
Lewis defeated his challenger, Barrington Martin II, with 88 percent of the votes to secure the Democratic nomination in the June primary.
A total of 131 candidates submitted their applications to replace Lewis on the ballot after an open call Saturday by the Democratic Party of Georgia.
Williams made the shortlist with four other candidates: state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta; Atlanta Councilman Andre Dickens; Morehouse College President Emeritus Robert Franklin; and Georgia NAACP President James Woodall.
After a nonbinding poll, Williams received 37 of the 41 votes. Cannon received two votes, and Woodall received one vote, with Williams' abstaining. Williams then received a unanimous nod from the committee members.
“Congressman Lewis played a pivotal role in our nation’s history to ensure access to the ballot box, and voters can honor his legacy by participating in our democracy as they decide who should represent them in Congress,” Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said. “No one can replace John Lewis, but someone must represent the interests of the 5th Congressional District.”
Williams will run against Republican nominee Angela Stanton-King, a reality TV star who was pardoned by President Donald Trump in February on federal conspiracy charges.
Williams will have to withdraw her re-election bid for the state senate, where she has been an advocate for women's and LGBTQ rights. She is the first Black woman chair of the Democratic Party of Georgia and is a member of the Executive and Resolution committees for the Democratic National Committee.
Gov. Brian Kemp must call a special election to fill the remainder of Lewis’ current term, which ends in January, within 10 days of the vacancy, according to the Secretary of State’s office.
The election must be scheduled at least 30 days after the announcement.