A rising Democratic star eyes bid for state party leader

State Sen. Nikema Williams is flanked by two Democratic colleagues.  (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

State Sen. Nikema Williams is flanked by two Democratic colleagues. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

The last heated race to lead the state Democratic party was a brutal proxy fight. The next one could propel one of the party's rising young stars to a high-profile role.

State Sen. Nikema Williams, now the vice-chair of the party, is considered a leading contender to succeed chair DuBose Porter. The Atlanta activist said she has “been approached and encouraged to run” but didn’t comment further.

Williams is a staunch ally of Porter, who has not said whether he’d seek another four-year term but is considered unlikely to do so. He declined to comment, wanting to keep the focus on the Dec. 4 runoff.

If he doesn't run, Williams has set herself up for a possible bid. She 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 deep-blue Atlanta-based Senate district in a 2017 special election after Vincent Fort resigned the seat to run for mayor, and she ran unopposed in this 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 Stacey Abrams’ campaign for governor. She also drew international headlines after she was arrested earlier this month 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."

The timing of the party’s vote is not yet certain, but it’s likely to be hashed out over the next month or so.

It’s not immediately clear if Williams would face any high-profile challenger if she decides to run. But 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.