EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the second of six profiles of 2017 mayoral candidates we'll be publishing before the Stranger Election Control Board announces its endorsements. Read our profile of Nikkita Oliver.
Cary Moon is at ease in the backyard of a community activist’s University District home for her campaign’s first neighborhood salon. She paces back and forth between the creaking patio deck and the grassy yard to flit between pods of visitors.
When it comes time to give her mayoral stump speech, Moon, 53, doesn’t take center stage. She stands off to the side of the deck. To anyone not paying close enough attention, she may have appeared nervous. But Moon is simply trying to include everyone in the circle.
“Cities are more important now than ever,” she tells a crowd of activists, students, parents, and policy wonks.
It’s an expected campaign platitude, but Moon, an urban planner and founder of the People’s Waterfront Coalition, knows better than most. She introduces herself as a “systemic problem-solver,” one that, if elected, would seek solutions to Seattle’s housing affordability and homelessness crises and rebuild local blue-collar manufacturing jobs.
“We've become a city of haves and have-nots,” she says. “It's not that solutions are hard to come up with, it's that we don't have the courage or the political will to implement solutions... I want Seattle to be the beacon for the rest of the country.”
When the campaign event moves into a quick-fire question round, Moon speaks measuredly. Should Seattle build a new basketball arena in SoDo? “Yes, without public money.” How do we better address police violence and accountability? "[We need] citizen involvement in the department.” Between answers, Moon leans down to scratch the event hostess’ elderly dog behind the ears.
During these answers, Moon flip-flopped on the anti-city income tax position she presented at the first mayoral candidate forum on April 20. The urbanist switched from her firm ‘No’ stance to emphasizing the need to tax wealthy property owners.
When later asked about the change, Moon said she strongly supports “a progressive higher earners income tax, especially if it is coupled with a decrease in regressive sales taxes.”
She continued: “Putting our hopes on only an income tax proposal that may take years to run through the legal system diverts attention away from real solutions City Hall can and should implement now. And I’m concerned that it may not address a glaring tax loophole in our state: unearned wealth from gains on selling stocks could be ignored in this proposal.”
From a coffee shop near her home behind Pike Place Market, Moon says she’s tired of Seattleites whining about how much their city has changed. The image of Seattle is no longer just the “rugged, REI-wearing hiker with a kayak and a ski rack on their car”—and we should be glad to shed that skin, says Moon, a native Michigander who first moved to Seattle in the 1980s.
“We are a much more diverse city with different needs than the old Seattle,” Moon says while sipping a cup of tea. “Seattle has incredible potential. We have this unbelievable intelligence, spirit of innovation, creative community, and wealth—and we’re progressive here. We should be able to accomplish anything.”
The longtime urban policy wonk announced her run for mayor nearly two weeks after allegations that Seattle Mayor Ed Murray sexually abused teenage boys in the 1980s surfaced. (Moon’s political consultant, Moxie Media, dropped a hint that they were running a “viable,” “resourced” candidate just hours after news of the allegations broke.)
Moon has spent the last 20 years working behind the scenes with non profits and the city of Seattle addressing growth issues, as well as raising two kids. As a longtime urban planner and engineer, Moon says she’s ready to see lifelong residents and recent transplants work together to make Seattle an inclusive, world-class city.
To do so, Moon wants to begin by addressing income inequality. While Seattle must welcome the county’s tech elite flocking to the city, programming gigs at Amazon aren’t the only local jobs that matter, she says. City officials must make efforts to “figure out how to build product in our city” as Seattle evolves as a hub for invention and innovation, Moon says.
Seattle needs to better support blue-collar workers like those Moon worked alongside at her family’s small industrial manufacturing business in Michigan, she says. Reflecting on her days as a caterer while in engineering school and nights spent cooking at Café Campagne, Moon says the city must ensure manufacturing and service jobs can allow workers to support themselves and their families.
“If we attack economic inequality, we need organized workers at the table,” she says. “That’s essential to keeping us on track.”
Moon says she’s excited to be in a race with Nikkita Oliver, an organizer who has led protests and energized a young, progressive base. Like Oliver, Moon says Seattleites, particularly white people, need to work on “owning up to how systemic racism works in our city, despite our good intentions.”
Although she isn’t a movement-builder among Seattle’s youth, Moon said she’s ready to work with “young people [who] are ready to upend politics as usual.” To that sentiment, Moon, a Democrat, says she opposes the remodel of the King County Youth Detention Center and hopes she could work to “re-scope” the project. She didn’t dive into further details.
Moon spoke to the need to grow Seattle’s housing stock to address the dire need for affordable housing in established, NIMBY-leaning neighborhoods. She plans to meet with neighborhood groups to identify the unique aspects of their community and then figure out where additional housing can be built without destroying the area’s character. When it comes to changing zoning in tight neighborhoods, implementing “a one-size fits all, blanket-the-city approach” will make more conservative folks “feel uncomfortable,” she says.
Moon’s passion for urban livability also translates in her view of Seattle’s homelessness crisis. County leaders failed to meet their 10-year goal to end chronic homelessness, she says, so why not finally implement the “Housing First” model to help struggling individuals and families land on their feet?
“We’re the land of 10,000 pilot projects,” she said. “We invent things and we don’t follow through and honestly, I don’t understand why.”
One option, she said, is to ease the permitting process to allow community groups and churches to host more tiny house villages, such as the Low-Income Housing Institute’s communities in Ballard and Othello. Moon is also a proponent of 24-hour, low-barrier Navigation Centers. However, in the case of the facility slated to open in Little Saigon this summer, Moon said she’d work with communities through the siting and design review processes to better address the concerns of residents and business owners. Mayor Murray’s administration did not make enough time to listen to members of the Chinatown-International District community, she says.
Moon recognized that tiny house villages and even low-barrier shelters are only short-term solutions. To better address homelessness, city leaders and non-profit housing groups need to better inform tenants of their rights and work with landlords to identify residents who are falling behind on rent payments, she said.
“If a family [member] lost their job and is facing eviction… that kind of insecurity is toxic,” she said. “We need to find emergency funding to keep them in housing.”
Moon continued: “Fundamentally, I think we need to address the root cause of the problem. It's housing affordability, lack of access to good, secure jobs… People are coming out of foster care, the hospital, and mental health services with nowhere to go. We need to help people with that transition.”
When asked how she would win support for these sites from Seattle’s infamous NIMBYs, Moon was vague, saying that she’d bring opposing groups to the table “to figure out what we can do together.”
Moon echoes this sentiment often when asked about her approach to tackling complicated city issues such as rezoning and rebuilding community trust in city government. Through her background in urban planning, Moon sees Seattle as a city brimming with untapped potential. Bringing conflicting communities together to find compromises and understand city decision-making is not a surprising solution for a political novice.
Moon freely admits that she lacks years of political experience held by other mayoral hopefuls. Despite this, she sees her years outside of the government establishment as a boon.
“I think we approach politics as a transaction of win-lose,” Moon says. “If we have a unifying vision, if we had a constructive goal to work towards, it changes the dynamic. You're asking people not to defend their own interests, [but instead] asking, 'What can we do together to achieve that goal?’”