Atlanta Democrat aims for state party chair

State Sen. Nikema Williams announced she is running to lead the Democratic Party of Georgia with a pledge to boost county parties and construct a "year-round field apparatus that continues our work" long after the election.

Williams, now the party’s vice-chair, is considered the frontrunner to succeed DuBose Porter, who is not seeking another term. She has close ties to Stacey Abrams, the party’s most prominent leader, and support from Porter and other top Democrats.

Weeks after hinting she would run, Williams made it formal on Friday with a dispatch to Democratic activists and a glossy website outlining her plans, which also include new regional leadership councils designed to build the party's bench.

In her note, she said she was inspired while watching the diverse newly-elected U.S. House members get sworn in this week in Washington.

"But then I saw them do something else. I saw them get to work," she wrote. "They understand the same thing that you and I do - that we cannot stop and we cannot rest until we make our state and nation a better place for all of us."

The only other announced candidate for the Jan. 26 vote is Daniel Blackman, a Forsyth County businessman who has run for multiple offices. Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry announced earlier this week he would run for party vice-chair.

Williams was acting chair of the state party in 2013 after Mike Berlon was forced to resign amid mounting legal problems that led to a federal prison sentence. And she served as a top executive for Planned Parenthood's Southeast chapter.

She won a heavily-Democratic Atlanta-based Senate district in a 2017 special election after Vincent Fort resigned the seat to run for mayor, and she ran unopposed in last year's contest. She is now the state director of Care in Action, a voting rights advocacy group.

Williams quickly became a forceful advocate for progressive causes in the Senate and a prominent supporter of Abrams’ campaign for governor. She also drew international headlines after she was arrested in December during a “count every vote” protest under the Gold Dome.

She was charged with obstruction and disrupting a general assembly, sparking outrage from Democrats who said she was wrongfully arrested as she stood peacefully with constituents. Porter was among the loudest critics of the authorities, saying she was targeted "for doing her job where she works."

Democrats hope the race is less contentious than the 2013 contest that propelled Porter, a newspaper publisher and former House minority leader, to the party’s top.

He won that vote despite a gaggle of powerful party leaders, including then-Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed and former Gov. Roy Barnes, who endorsed his opponent. And he coasted to a full four-year term in 2015 despite rumblings from Democrats upset by the GOP sweep the year before.

In a recent interview, Porter called for Democrats to intensify efforts to energize the liberal base - and praised Williams as a leader who can help sustain the party's momentum.

“We are the next battleground state,” he said. “We want to continue to define who we are and what we are fighting for. I hope we take what we have built to the next step. That’s why it’s time for me to step aside – we need those younger faces and voices to step up.”