ATLANTA – Kwanza Hall and Robert M. Franklin Jr. have campaigned for months, planting signs in the grassy medians along Atlanta’s busy highways and on the windows of popular brunch spots.
They handed out hand sanitizer, met the Omega Psi Phi men, and argued vigorously with each other. During a live chat, they delved into ambitious ideas to overcome intractable problems – limited access to health care, inequalities in the criminal justice system, and infringements of the right to vote.
Politics have consumed much of Georgia in recent weeks. President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. won the state – a feat no Democrat had achieved for nearly three decades, and another confirmed by a manual audit of the ballots – and two rounds of the ballot in high stakes in January will determine which party controls the Senate.
Well that’s the other second round, especially notable for the short round the winner will have in Congress. Very short. All in all, not even a month in the House.
A set of special circumstances created a contest with stakes that couldn’t be much lower. Mr Hall and Dr Franklin, both Democrats, vie for a run-off Tuesday in a reliable Democratic district for a term that ends at noon on Jan.3. And there is no chance of overtime for the winner, like his successor was. elected this month.
Still, the candidates argued that their offers were anything but inconsequential. The winner will serve in what would have been the last days of John Lewis’ 17th term representing Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District. Mr Lewis, the pioneering civil rights leader, died on July 17.
“These are the days he won,” Dr. Franklin, a scholar and former president of Morehouse College, said in front of a library before voting. “For me, it’s honor and privilege.”
Dr Franklin and Mr Hall, a former Atlanta city councilor, qualified for a runoff after a special election in September, coming out of a mixed group comprising five Democrats, one Independent and one Libertarian.
“It matters to me,” Hall said, “because we haven’t had any performances since July 17.”
The neighborhood, which encompasses parts of Atlanta and its surrounding suburbs, is an economic and cultural hub that has long drawn South African Americans with opportunities for upward mobility and relief from the burdens of racial hostility in the places they left behind.
But it’s also an area that has been reminded of how far Atlanta’s aspirations for the promise have fallen short of reality.
Gentrification spread quickly, driving out longtime black residents. And in June, Rayshard Brooks, an African-American man, was killed by a city policeman, sparking protests that became tense and violent and stressed that, despite its reputation, Atlanta was anything but immune from pernicious consequences. and enduring of the breed. inequality.
After Mr Lewis’ death, Democratic Party officials had to rush to meet a deadline to replace his name on the November ballot, call for nominations and land on Nikema Williams, a state senator.
Party officials did give Ms. Williams a ticket to Congress. Mr Lewis, a Democrat, had won all but one of his re-election proposals with over 70% of the vote. Ms Williams won 85% of the vote and she was previously elected president of the New Class of Democrats.
Mr Hall and Dr Franklin are involved in a separate process that began when Governor Brian Kemp called for a special election for the remainder of Mr Lewis’ term. Ms Williams declined to participate and no candidate crossed the 50% mark in the September election, forcing the second round. (Just over 31,000 people voted.)
The campaign can seem like a confusing endeavor. Only the interval between the special election and Tuesday’s second round is more than twice as long as the winner’s time in Congress.
Despite this, the candidates made serious investments in time and money. They won the approval of elected officials, activists and local business leaders. While the donations are a far cry from the stupendous sums that the stormy Senate races have brought in, they have amassed hundreds of thousands of dollars among themselves.
Dr Franklin hired a staff of eight and maintained a regular schedule of virtual events, such as joining a gathering of interfaith leaders.
Mr. Hall led a lean operation. He is his own director of communications. The phone number displayed on his campaign’s Facebook page rings on his cell phone.
He keeps his face covered and traded handshakes for elbow bumps during the pandemic, but he still prefers to beat the pavement. “I’m showing up to Congress,” he said one person after another as he handed out flyers in a mall.
The two men have noble notions of what they could accomplish in office.
Dr. Franklin sees a bully chair, a platform for him as a minister and professor of moral leadership at Emory University to deliver a message of clarity in a time of turbulence. And what would be his last day in office, a Sunday, he said, he would walk away with a blessing for Mr Lewis and his work.
Mr Hall plans to go out with an aggressive agenda: working to decriminalize marijuana, clear the records of formerly incarcerated people, create economic opportunities.
“I can do the equivalent of what I’ve done in 15 years – I can do it in 15 days,” he said, referring to his years on Atlanta city council. “I know what not to waste my time on. I know how to be efficient. “
The history of Congress is dotted with members whose terms were best measured in days. For the most part, all the achievements recorded by history were largely symbolic.
In fact, the first woman to serve in the Senate came from Georgia: Rebecca Latimer Felton, an 87-year-old writer and activist who was appointed in 1922 after the death of her predecessor, once served and gave a speech. In it, she shared her vision of a Senate where more women would serve: “You will gain skills, you will gain the integrity of your goals, you will gain exalted patriotism, and you will gain unwavering utility.”
In all likelihood, Mr. Hall or Mr. Franklin’s experience will be less or less productive: votes on some important legislation, including government funding bills, and opportunities to speak in the House .
“It‘s going to be difficult to do anything in a short period of time, especially in this short period of time,” said Michael Crespin, director of the Carl Albert Congressional Research and Studies Center at the University of the Oklahoma.
There is no lack of attention to Georgian politics at the moment, but this campaign was unlikely to compete with the recounted ballots, the Senate run-off, intra-partisan feuds between Georgia Republicans and a Democrat taking the state in a presidential race for the first time. since 1992.
It doesn’t help that the campaign is part of a tangle of proceedings after Mr Lewis’ death that left voters confused.
Mr. Lewis had an almost singular presence in Atlanta, embraced as a link to connect a new generation of Black Lives Matter activists to the civil rights movement that was rooted in the city.
Mr Hall, 49, said he was well placed to carry on that legacy even though he believed he was done with politics. His last campaign was a failed mayoral bid in 2017. He turned to business, working in economic development and consulting.
But around the time of Mr Lewis’ death, a coronavirus diagnosis confined Mr Hall to his bed and forced him to consider the future.
Recently, as he joined volunteers to pack boxes of hand sanitizer and canned goods, he leafed through photos on his phone. They were yellowed photos of his father, Leon W. Hall, a civil rights activist and one of the youngest lieutenants of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
In one, her father kissed Mr. Lewis. Another made him cry; it showed that his father was being dragged by a police officer during a demonstration. These photographs provided the boost he needed. “You are exactly where you are supposed to be,” he says.
Dr Franklin, 66, said he was waiting to see who else might come forward, such as Shirley Franklin, the former mayor of Atlanta, or Andrew Young, who was in the seat before Mr Lewis and who had also been mayor.
“OK,” he decided, “I have to offer my leadership.”
Whatever the outcome, he said, the campaign could be the prelude to a new chapter in elected office or perhaps ambassadorial office.
“I am by no means up to the task,” he said, trying to fill the void left by Mr Lewis, “but I think I could contribute something, even if not only for two weeks. “