Candidates for U.S. House District 5 special election

by Robin Kemp

Here are the candidates who are running to finish out the late Rep. John Lewis’ term in the Fifth U.S. House District. Lewis, an icon of the Civil Rights Movement, died July 17 of pancreatic cancer.

The winner of this race on Sept. 29 (or of a Dec. 1 runoff if no one wins outright) will serve until Jan. 3, 2021.

There is a separate election for this seat on Nov. 3 between Democrat Nikema Williams and Republican Angela Stanton King. The winner of that race will start a full two-year term in Congress at noon on Jan. 3, 2021 to represent the Fighting Fifth.

We’ve provided capsule summaries to get you started, with links to interviews by other news organizations, the candidates’ websites and Twitter feeds, their Ballotpedia bios, and BillTrack50 legislative record or Atlanta City Council minutes where applicable.


Keisha Sean Waites (D)

Waites, one of two openly gay candidates in the race, holds degrees in political science and criminal justice and is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government as a David Bohnet Fellow. She worked as a disaster loan specialist for the Small Business Administration from 2002 to 2005 and served from 2012-2017 in the Georgia House of Representatives. She sponsored or was instrumental in passing the “Ban the Box” law, which lets ex-offenders explain past convictions in person when applying for a job; HB 18, which made state buildings accessible to wheelchair users and the visually impaired; HB 40, anti-bullying legislation; HB 54, the Fallen Hero Bill (HB 54), which gave children of fallen law enforcement officers tuition assistance; and legislation to offer patients HIV testing as part of routine bloodwork. Waites was named 2015 Legislator of the year by the Georgia State Firefighters’ Association and the Georgia Association of Fire Chiefs. Waites told WABE’s Lisa Rayam she is ready to follow Lewis’ path: “This is the time to continue to talk about the things most important to him. This is an opportunity to advocate for affordable housing, service and health care reform.” Ballotpedia | Campaign | Twitter | BillTrack50

“Able” Mable Thomas

Thomas earned her public administration degree while playing basketball for Georgia State. Two years later, she was a Presidential delegate for Jesse Jackson at the 1984 Democratic National Convention and was elected to the state House as the youngest member of the General Assembly, where she served 22 years. She also served on the Atlanta City Council and lost a 2019 Senate bid. In 1992 and 2008, Thomas ran against Rep. John Lewis for Congress and lost in the primary. She was instrumental in organizing the English Avenue/Vine City community after Kathryn Johnston was killed in a botched Atlanta Police raid. Thomas told WABE’s Lisa Rayam, “There was some unfinished work the Congressman was doing.” Pointing to her grassroots and legislative experience, Thomas said she wants to represent the Fighting Fifth District because “it is too important with the pandemic and people’s lives.”

Ballotpedia | Campaign | Twitter |BillTrack50

Kwanza Hall (D)

Hall, who “leads a private business focused on real estate development, entertainment, and local to global government affairs,” studied political science at MIT but dropped out his senior year. He first served on the Atlanta School Board in 2002 before winning three terms on the Atlanta City Council. In 2017, he ran for mayor, losing in the primary. Hall was heavily involved with the Atlanta BeltLine and other Intown development projects, with an eye towards historic preservation and sustainable development. Hall also voted to decriminalize marijuana possession under one ounce in Atlanta: “Court costs, the jail time, ruining young people’s lives, they lose their scholarships, it breaks up families, and it wastes our tax dollars. That’s the reason for doing this.” In August, Hall was diagnosed with COVID-19. Ballotpedia | Campaign | Twitter | Council

Robert M. Franklin (D)

Franklin, who graduated from Harvard Divinity School and the University of Chicago School of Divinity, is the Laney professor of moral leadership at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology and was president of Morehouse College from 2007 to 2012. While at Morehouse, he more than doubled alumni giving and brought in millions in federal grants. Franklin told The Emory Wheel that, if elected, he’ll strengthen the Voting Rights Act of 1965, attack the problem of Internet access to online learning for low-income students, and “make ‘good trouble’ on behalf of the CDC and public health infrastructure in Atlanta,” especially regarding COVID-19 in underserved areas. And he told the AJC’s Jim Galloway that he brings “the right skill set” to work across the aisle “where there will be deep and sharp-elbowed polarization and animus.” Ballotpedia | Campaign | Twitter

Steven Muhammad (I)

Rev. Steven Muhammad, a Chicago native and grassroots organizer who founded Georgia State University’s Black Student Alliance, says his family’s roots run 40 years deep in the Fighting Fifth. He told WABE’s Lisa Rayam, “We believe strongly in diversity. We want to diversify the city but we don’t want to gentrify it.” Muhammad, whose grassroots work cleaning up liquor stores and crack dealers in Atlanta led him to join the Nation of Islam, says he’d also use the “bigger, broader pulpit” to work on police brutality and affordable housing issues. Muhammad was Southern Regional Coordinator for the 1995 Million Man March and organized three busloads of people for the 2015 Justice or Else! rally. He told The Washington Post that the Million Man March “began as a Muslim event, and then it got big and people could not ignore it or . . . us.” Ballotpedia | Campaign | Twitter

Chase Oliver (L)

Oliver says he’s running to provide an alternative to the two-party system in the Fighting Fifth while carrying on Rep. John Lewis’ “legacy of pushing for change.” A Libertarian who works for “the import shipping business for a multinational liner service,” Oliver told WABE’s Rose Scott, “My platform is very much focused on criminal justice and returning power back to each and every individual. As opposed to having more and more power in the hands of government, specifically our police and our court system, which too often show to be systemically racist.” Oliver is chair of the Libertarian Party of Atlanta and fundraising director of Outright Libertarians, the party’s LGBTQ arm. Ballotpedia | Campaign | Twitter

Barrington D. Martin, II (D)

Martin, who grew up in East Atlanta, ran in the last primary against Rep. John Lewis, who easily took 88% of the vote. Now Martin’s back, seeking the Fighting Fifth’s Congressional seat. A graduate of Georgia State University, Martin is a special needs teacher at McNair Discovery Learning Center, the Decatur school where a secretary talked down an armed intruder in 2013. Martin backs 2nd Amendment protections, marijuana legalization, universal healthcare, and universal income. He told 11Alive’s Jonathan Raymond, “I’ve read all of John Lewis’ books to this point. He always talked about good trouble, and I feel like I am basically the embodiment of that. I am the work he put in. The seeds that he sowed a long time ago, I’m the fruit harvested in 2020.” Ballotpedia | Campaign | Twitter