New ad touts mayoral hopeful’s Westside development work. Some residents disagree

West Highlands community leaders slam Sharon Gay’s mayoral campaign ad
An image from the new campaign ad released by Atlanta mayoral candidate Sharon Gay. (Screenshot)

An image from the new campaign ad released by Atlanta mayoral candidate Sharon Gay. (Screenshot)

The first TV ad for mayoral candidate Sharon Gay, released last week, touts her work on a redevelopment project in northwest Atlanta that replaced a blighted public housing complex.

Gay’s campaign put $300,000 behind the ad, which highlights West Highlands — the mixed-income community that replaced Heman E. Perry Homes, “a housing project full of violent crime and drugs,” according to the 30-second spot.

But some residents in and around the West Highlands neighborhood said they found the ad misleading. Longtime community leader Robbie Burr said the ad exaggerates Gay’s role in the project.

“For [Gay] to come in as ‘the Great White Hope’ to save the Black people because she’s desperate for Black votes is ridiculous,” said Burr, who supports Felicia Moore’s campaign for mayor.

Gay’s campaign said in a statement that Burr’s remarks “clearly reflect a fundamental lack of understanding or perhaps a purposeful disregard of the eight years of hard work Sharon put into implementing the vision to make West Highlands happen.”

The Atlanta Housing Authority demolished Perry Homes in 1999 to begin construction of West Highlands, which was described by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2000 as the agency’s “most ambitious attempt yet” to revitalize former dilapidated public housing projects. Public and private funds supported its 2004 completion.

Gay was the outside counsel for the housing authority during the time of the redevelopment and led the creation of the Perry-Bolton Tax Allocation District, a complex tax agreement that provided local funding for the neighborhood, her campaign said.

But Burr said Renee Glover — the former housing authority CEO — was the “primary person” behind the West Highlands development. Glover received nationwide praise in the 2000s for her work on transforming public housing sites.

Ola Reynolds, the chair of NPU-G, which includes West Highlands, said she took issue with the ad’s reference to Gay working with neighborhood leaders.

“I wonder, what leaders did she reach out to in the community?” said Reynolds, who has been involved with the NPU since 1995 and said she doesn’t remember seeing Gay at NPU meetings related to West Highlands. “So I beg to differ with her.”

Arthur Carson Jr., the longtime pastor at Springfield Missionary Baptist Church up the road from West Highlands, remembers the community meetings over the redevelopment project.

“I never saw Sharon Gay,” he said. “She may have done the legal work with somebody, but she didn’t work with us.”

Still, Gay’s campaign contends that “Sharon was an indispensable member of the team, including leading the successful effort to amend the state constitution” to create the TAD that funded “new streets, sidewalks, parks, and water and sewer systems.”

West Highlands is now home to a mix of single-family homes and apartment buildings, with well-manicured parks and playgrounds scattered throughout.

Gay’s ad quotes David Patton, identified as a “neighborhood leader,” saying Gay “helped make West Highlands happen here.”

“She started with neighborhood leaders and put together the roadmap,” Patton says. “These homes went up and crime dropped. … Sharon helped turn things around here and she’ll do the same for the rest of Atlanta.”

Patton doesn’t live in West Highlands. He has lived in the Old Fourth Ward since 1994. He told the AJC he has worked with Gay on other development projects similar to West Highlands as a community and Neighborhood Planning Unit leader in his neighborhood.

“We are not taking any steam out of the strong community efforts that went into creating West Highlands. She’s not taking credit for that,” Patton said. “It’s sort of like she is the hub in many ways…the lawyer who brings together a lot of different groups.”

Burr, president of the West Highlands Homeowners Association, said crime dropped in their neighborhood because the residents invested $200,000 into security efforts.

“We don’t want her as the mayor if that’s the way she’s pitching herself and taking credit for something that she hadn’t done,” Burr said.