ATLANTA — Keisha Lance Bottoms' announcement this week that she wouldn't run for re-election has thrown the door wide open on the Atlanta mayor's race.
For now, though, we still only have the two candidates who had already declared before Mayor Bottoms revealed her decision.
One is City Council President Felicia Moore, and the other is private attorney Sharon Gay.
Moore has been on the Council for two decades and has a fairly public record as a lawmaker and politician.
But what about Gay?
Her work in Atlanta with the Dentons law firm suggests the issue she'll be able to speak most forcefully about in the campaign is development.
Gay has long played a leading behind-the-scenes role in Atlanta's development. She was a top lieutenant of former Mayor Bill Campbell in the mid-90s when the Olympics brought major transformations to the city, and worked on the financing for Atlantic Station in the early 00s.
Her Dentons profile indicates she had a role in financing nearly all of the most significant city developments of the last decade-plus: Ponce City Market, Glenwood Place, Madison Yards, Stockyards, Atlanta Dairies, and Krog Street Market.
That history will face scrutiny, as Atlanta looks ahead to a looming development boom on the Westside.
The coming Westside development carries with it concerns that it will result in the runaway gentrification that came to Eastside neighborhoods like the Old Fourth Ward following projects like Ponce City Market and the BeltLine, and which is already emerging on the Southside as the BeltLine takes shape in neighborhoods like West End.
On the Westside, massive projects like the redevelopment of the Bellwood Quarry into a gleaming new Westside Park, and Microsoft committing to building a new campus nearby, threaten a "gentrification bomb" on the historically Black and underserved Grove Park neighborhood.
In an interview with a public relations firm in March, Gay vowed she would take development equity concerns seriously.
“In this moment, particularly of looking at the patterns of systemic racism that exist in Atlanta and throughout the country that were intentionally done around real estate - whether it’s redlining, VA loans only going to white families, exclusionary zoning, or redeveloping only poor Black neighborhoods but not others - our Council is resolved and intentional about focusing on things we can do in Atlanta to begin to address the effects of those decisions that were made 30, 40, 50 and 60 years ago," she said.
Gay is described by her firm as a "key player in pioneering the use of tax allocation district financing in Georgia," a process that the City of Atlanta says it can use to "provide financial assistance to eligible public and private redevelopment efforts within an officially designated area or TAD."
The financing mechanism was central to Atlantic Station's development, and has been frequently utilized around the BeltLine. TAD financing has sometimes been met with concerns that it goes to aid in development that would have happened anyway, and thus the "public investment is a benefit that accrues to businesses with no real return to the public," as Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux wrote in 2016. But, Bourdeaux noted, Atlantic Station was a "pretty successful" example of a TAD project.
Gay, an Inman Park resident, also recently became chair of the Urban Land Institute's Atlanta Livable Communities Council, after she chaired an Affordable Housing Task Force that commissioned a study that mapped out how to better realize affordable housing goals for new developments.
According to her Dentons profile, she has "advocated for and assisted in the financing of affordable and mixed income housing" and on her campaign site presents herself as a bona fide champion for sustainable development.
"She has used her experience and expertise to assist in the development of affordable housing, the creation of new parks and trails, the transformation of brownfields into communities, and in providing grocery stores and other needed shops and services," the campaign site states. "Her vision for the City is to bring together the rich resources of the government, businesses, charities, faith communities, colleges and universities, and neighborhood leaders to build inclusive, healthy communities – to ensure that every neighborhood has decent, affordable housing for residents at all ages and stages of life and access to good schools, jobs, transportation, and parks."