WASHINGTON — For just 31 days, Democrat Kwanza Hall will be a federal legislator representing Georgia’s 5th Congressional District.
It’s a brief tenure, though not the shortest in congressional history (two lawmakers served just one day, due to a lengthy delay in resolving contested election results). And it will be a stint that follows a lengthy one in Atlanta’s 5th District: Hall is completing the term of the late Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon and Democrat who died in July of pancreatic cancer after serving nearly 34 years in the U.S. House.
Because Lewis died after the primary election, Georgia Democrats tapped a replacement for the general election ballot, choosing state Sen. Nikema Williams to compete for the full two-year term that starts in January. Williams defeated Republican Angela Stanton King last month in the heavily Democratic district, which includes portions of Clayton, DeKalb and Fulton counties.
Hall, a former Atlanta city councilman, drew the most votes in a September special election to succeed Lewis, but he didn’t get at least 50% of the vote, so the race went to a runoff. In Tuesday’s runoff election, Hall defeated former Morehouse College President Robert Franklin.
In a phone interview with the Georgia Recorder Thursday evening, Hall said he was “humbled and blessed” for a chance to join Congress during “one of the most significant period’s in our country’s history.”
“The things we have before us are in no way inconsequential,” Hall said, describing the efforts to provide more relief to those struggling amid the pandemic as “a matter of life or death.”
In his first remarks on the House floor Thursday, Hall said that in July, just before Lewis’ death, he was battling a COVID-19 infection.
“God blessed me with that time to think about what I do next with my life,” Hall said.
Hall grew up near Lewis’ home, and his father, Leon Hall, worked with Lewis in the civil rights movement. Lewis’ son, John-Miles, also endorsed him.
“We have a lot of things on the plate in front of us, and I just want to be a unifier, a person who can help us get some things done,” Hall said Thursday.
He cast his first vote shortly after those remarks, joining fellow Democrats in opposing a Republican procedural tactic.
Hall’s time in D.C. may be short, but he’s on Capitol Hill as a number of significant deadlines are looming. Congress by the end of next week needs to approve more funding to keep the government running.
Negotiations over another coronavirus relief package also have resumed, with a growing urgency as year-end expirations loom for expanded unemployment benefits, student loan relief, and eviction protections.