Vincent Fort, an outspoken Atlanta progressive and former Georgia state Senate whip, announced plans Thursday to challenge Rep. David Scott, a 10-term centrist Democrat, in Georgia’s June primary elections.
Given Fort’s close relationship with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and deep ties to the Atlanta-area left, his entry into the race raises the prospect of a primary challenge that attracts national attention and resources.
“It’s time for a change. We need somebody in place who is prepared and able to fight for a progressive agenda,” Fort told HuffPost. “We need someone who puts people in this district first.”
Scott, a member of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition who chairs the House Committee on Agriculture, has taken some votes that have elicited criticism from progressives. A recipient of copious corporate PAC contributions, Scott voted for the 2005 law making it harder for households to declare bankruptcy, and for a 2018 bill rolling back some of the Wall Street regulations that former President Barack Obama signed into law.
Scott’s colleagues on the House Committee on Agriculture have also raised concerns about whether Scott, 76, is in good enough physical and mental shape to adequately discharge his duties as chairman, according to a Politico report. Scott has rejected doubts about his capacities, attributing temporary mobility challenges to a recent leg surgery.
Fort, 65, represented southwest Atlanta in the Georgia state Senate for two decades, reaching the No. 2 position of Democratic whip. During the last period of Democratic control in the state legislature, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Fort shepherded the passage of pioneering laws restricting predatory lending and enhancing punishments for the commission of hate crimes.
“We need someone who is going to stand up for hardworking people as opposed to predatory lending companies,” Fort told HuffPost.
Fort does not currently live in Georgia’s solidly Democratic 13th Congressional District, which includes part of the city of Atlanta and suburbs with a large Black population. He plans to move there as soon as possible and said that his tenure as a state senator for some of the district has given him insight into the needs of his would-be constituents. He suggested that he would be more available to constituents than Scott, who also does not live in the district.
“Not only am I right on the issues, but I also am present and have always been present,” he said. “I have a reputation of being in the district, amongst the voters and constituents. I won’t be missing in action.”
An inside player in the state Capitol, Fort is also known as an independent-minded populist with one foot in the activist world. He was an early supporter of both the Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter movements who frequently intervened personally on behalf of constituents facing eviction or foreclosure.
During the 2016 presidential primary, Fort, who initially backed Hillary Clinton, ended up embracing Sanders’ candidacy, declaring that Sanders was “speaking to the issues that are the most critical” to Fort’s constituents. Fort went on to become a co-chair of Sanders’ campaign in the state.
Sanders returned the favor in 2017 when Fort launched an ill-fated bid for mayor of Atlanta; he came in fifth place. Fort currently earns a living lobbying for, and advising, labor unions at the state Capitol.
If elected, Fort would mark a dramatic leftward shift in representation for Georgia’s 13th Congressional District, which includes part of the city of Atlanta and suburbs with a large Black population. He is a supporter of Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, tuition-free public college, student debt cancellation, and federal rules to reduce police misconduct. He stops short of endorsing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement against Israel, and demurs when asked about calls to reduce police funding, noting that he has stood both with families who have lost loved ones to police violence and those who have lost loved ones to civilian gun violence.
“When I am in the community, I hear two things from the ‘Miss Marys’: One, we need to be safe. And two, we need to give the kids something to do,” he said. “More resources need to be put into making sure that there are alternative approaches to putting people in jail.”
Fort, who is refusing to accept corporate PAC contributions, begins his campaign with the endorsement of Atlanta City Councilman Antonio Lewis, a progressive who unseated a more moderate incumbent in the city’s 2021 municipal elections.
Fort faces obstacles on the road to defeating Scott in Georgia’s June 21 primary, however. He does not yet have the support of any progressive groups that normally help primary challengers fundraise, and his frosty relationship with Stacey Abrams, the former Georgia state House Democratic leader-turned-gubernatorial candidate and voting rights icon, could prove a hindrance.
And Fort has competition for the progressive mantle in the race. South Fulton, Georgia, City Councilman Mark Baker is also running to unseat Scott on a left-leaning platform. He has the endorsement of South Fulton Mayor khalid kamau, a democratic socialist and Black Lives Matter activist with his own following in Atlanta-area activist circles.