Mystery solved. The “viable,” “resourced,” but until now unnamed woman we’ve been hearing might enter the mayoral race is Cary Moon.
Later this morning, Moon, who founded the People’s Waterfront Coalition and fought to halt the downtown tunnel project, will announce that she’s running for Ed Murray’s seat at City Hall. (Along with three other credible challengers who are already in the race: activist Nikkita Oliver, safe-streets advocate Andres Salomon, and former mayor Mike McGinn.)
Two days ago, at the same moment McGinn was in the yard of his Greenwood home announcing his candidacy, I sat with Moon in a conference room at the downtown Seattle offices of Moxie Media—Moon’s political consultants—to hear why the 53-year-old activist wants to shift from outside agitating to being at the center of Seattle decision-making.
Though not a household name like McGinn or Murray, Moon (so many Ms in this mayor's race!) is well known in local urban planning circles for championing the “surface transit option” for replacing the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct. A decade ago, when the only options being considered for Seattle's waterfront were an even larger viaduct or a deep-bore tunnel, Moon imagined a waterfront with no highway—just a mix of pedestrian, transit, and car uses along 22 acres of public land.
Moon lost her fight against the waterfront tunnel, but her vision for the above-ground waterfront lives on in Waterfront Seattle and other plans for the day the aged viaduct comes down.
That vision also won Moon a 2007 Stranger Political Genius Award—the only one of its kind in circulation. (For those interested in Stranger Genius Award trivia: the idea that we should recognize a Seattle "political genius" each year was soon downgraded to recognizing an "honorary political genius." Soon after that, the whole concept of recognizing "genius" Seattle politicians was abandoned.)
To finance her run, Moon says she’s going to “fundraise like hell” but will refuse to take corporate money. If fundraising doesn’t bring in the cash needed to increase her name recognition and mount a viable run at the mayor’s office, Moon is ready to self-fund using money she inherited through her family’s manufacturing business. “A campaign for someone like me costs money,” Moon told me, a tacit admission of the work she has ahead of her in becoming familiar to voters citywide.
Moon’s mission as mayor would be to better handle this moment of “flux” for Seattle, in part by directly taking on the “speculators and profiteers” she says are an underappreciated cause of the current housing affordability crisis.
She thinks lower and middle income Seattleites are paying enough in sales and property taxes already, and that it’s time to aim at the one percent for additional revenue. (Via new taxes on those real estate “speculators and profiteers,” plus a capital gains tax.) Moon wants to combat the "Sorry, you lost" attitude that she says contributes to gentrification, she wants to increase collaboration with neighborhoods when it comes to issues surrounding the push for urban density, and she wants to do all of these things with less ego and grandstanding than she believes we've become accustomed to in Seattle politics. "I don’t have a big ego," Moon told me. "I like being part of a team that’s building constructive solutions."
A resident of downtown Seattle with “a huge mortgage” for her condo behind the Pike Place Market, Moon plans to introduce herself through a video, an upcoming virtual town hall, and neighborhood chats. When we spoke on Monday, she talked about how needing to shuttle her two kids around Seattle has shaped her current perspective on transportation. (Both of Moon's children started out in Seattle public schools, but because of “academic and logistical” issues, she says, they now attend private school.) Moon also told me what she thinks about calls for Murray to drop out of the mayor's race because of sexual abuse charges he's facing; addressed Oliver's call for a "pause" on Seattle development; weighed in on Salomon's safe streets push; and, at the same moment McGinn was coming out in support of a Seattle income tax, told me what she thinks of that idea.
Moon also explained which Seattle City Council members she’s most in sync with, offered her take on the “war on cars,” and shared her strong feelings about whether—per a recent Seattle Times article—cars should be allowed on that pedestrian-heavy cobblestone road in front of the Pike Place Market. Moon's response to that last issue surprised me, as did her response when I asked if she was running as a Democrat: “Can I get back to you on that?”
She did, very quickly. The answers to that question, and many others, are below.
Eli Sanders: You’ve been pondering whether or not to take this step for a while. Why did you decide to get into the mayor’s race now? Was it Mayor Ed Murray’s declining fortunes due to the recent sexual abuse allegations against him? Was it something else?
Cary Moon: I decided I can’t sit by and watch our city become unaffordable and unwelcoming to young people and working families any longer. I’ve been working on solutions to some of our city’s biggest challenges for the past 20 years—working in coalition with other partners and building the solution set of how to keep prosperity for everybody, how to make it affordable and welcoming for everybody. And I was at the point where I was like, “We’re not doing enough. We don’t have enough courage to face these challenges." And so I felt this responsibility and duty to jump in say, "Yes, I want to help.”
ES: There are people—including Danni Askini, recently, on The Stranger’s blog—who are calling on Murray to resign and not run again. Where are you on what he should do in the face of the sexual abuse allegations and lawsuit against him?
CM: This situation is so painful for everyone, and my heart goes out to everybody involved, especially other survivors of sexual abuse who are re-living their own experience right now. But it’s not my place to comment. The judicial process has to play itself out and I think my job is to talk about the future of the city and how we build the solutions that create well-being and economic security for everyone.
ES: You’re well known in local political and urban planning communities, but to win citywide you’re going to need to introduce yourself to the wider electorate. So, who are you?
CM: I’m not a politician. I’m an urban planner, an engineer, a mom, and a civic leader. I’ve been working on solutions to our urban challenges for the past 20 years, so I have a really strong policy framework and problem-solving skill set. And before that I had a career as an engineer and in my family business. And so I have broad skills across private industry, the public sector, activism—and so from all those different experiences, I’ve built a set of leadership skills that I think are the right skills for Seattle.
ES: I want to hear all about your ideas for changing the direction of this city. But in my mind, the first-level job a challenger running against an incumbent who’s trying to stay in office is to explain to voters why the person who’s now in office needs to be kicked out. Things are admittedly a bit unusual this year, but Mayor Murray is running for re-election. So: Why should voters reject Mayor Murray and pick you?
CM: Probably three main things. Vison: I feel like for a city like Seattle that’s going through such a rapid transformation with so many forces changing our city, we need a really strong commitment to a positive, inclusive vision. And I feel like we don’t have that. I don’t know where we’re headed. Second, leadership. We need really collaborative leadership that listens, that builds solutions together, that builds commitment together. I don’t think we have that. And I think some of the solutions we need to put in place are going to be really tough. Housing affordability—we need to do some hard things to make that work. In terms of economic prosperity, we need to do some hard things to build prosperity and I don’t think we have the courage and the ability to stand up to special interests right now.
ES: You’re casting yourself as someone who won’t be in the pocket of special interests, and I understand you have the ability to bring a lot of personal financial resources to this campaign. Are you going to completely self-fund this campaign?
CM: No, I’m going to fundraise like hell because that’s part of building connections with people and building a sense of shared commitment to this. I’ll do everything I can to win, so if I need to add to what I can fundraise from my own resources, I’ll do what it takes.
ES: So you’ll start with fundraising and then, if you need to, you’ll put in personal money?
ES: I’ve known you for a while from your work in this city, but I have no idea where you’d get the kind of money it takes to self-fund a mayoral campaign. How are you in a position to be confident that you can fund your own race if needed?
CM: The family business generated a lot of wealth. It was employee owned, along with being family owned, so we shared the resources broadly through the whole enterprise, and when we sold it in the late 1990s, there was a chunk of money that my parents held, and then when they both died in the past five years, the family members all got a share of that. But it was all generated through the family business that we all worked in. So, that’s where my money comes from. And my husband Mark has a 35-year career—he’s an architect with LMN Architects now—so he’s built the retirement savings. So between his 35-year career and the family business money, we have enough money that we can spend some on this.
ES: And what was the family business?
CM: It was a manufacturing company in Michigan that made industrial safety equipment. Employed about 100 people.
ES: You were talking earlier about leadership. For someone who’s never held elective office before, that’s going to be another question: What is your leadership experience, and what is your leadership style?
CM: My leadership style is listen, bring everyone to the table, and find solutions together based on a common vision. So that means being able to make tough choices, not being beholden to special interests or funders, but listening and building solutions together and building a coalition around implementing them.
My leadership experience is kind of broad. I’ve worked a lot in the advocacy community around building an economic vision and platform for the left through state level and national level players, through the People’s Waterfront Coaltion. There, basically, the city was just planning to roll over and let the state Department of Transportation tell us what to do with our 22 acres of public land on the waterfront. But I helped shape the vision and built the public will to reclaim that land and now we have a 22 acre civic space coming for heart of our city.
Before, the plan was that the state was just going to rebuild a highway. We completely upended that and said, “No. This has to be about public life, about ecology, about connection into the city, and about reclaiming this as urban space for the city.” So we kind of crafted that vision and the set of principles that were then adopted by the city, and are now embedded in Waterfront Seattle, and are now being executed.
ES: Once the downtown tunnel is finished and the Viaduct is torn down.
ES: I was thinking: Here you are declaring for mayor shortly after the end of drilling for the tunnel. What was it like for you, as one of the people who was really loudly warning about the dangers of Bertha and the lack of wisdom in doing this—and you were not alone, The Stranger was saying the same things—but what was it like for you see the machine emerge from the far end, and for the tunnel project to continue churning on?
CM: Well, whether we like it or not, it’s here. And the issues now are: How are we going to deal with the hundreds of millions of dollars of unpaid bills due to contractor error? And how are we going to protect the citizens of Seattle from having to pay those bills? And I’d just like to point out that the same problems we had in our city before the tunnel project—in terms of mobility, congestion, and lack of sufficient transit—the same problems that we had 10 years ago, that we were aiming to solve through the streets and transit proposal, we still have those problems. And perhaps they’re worse. And I feel like now it’ll be time to get going on those, now that the distraction of the tunnel has passed us.
ES: Somewhere along the way during the fights over the waterfront and the tunnel, I got the idea that you live downtown. Do you?
CM: Yep. I live downtown. I moved away to lower Queen Anne for part of this time and then I moved back downtown, right behind the market on Western Ave.
ES: So where are you, then, on this whole discussion of increasing density downtown, increasing building heights downtown, and the middle class being pushed out of downtown?
CM: I’d like to step back and address the bigger issue. I feel like, yes, we need to build enough density for all the people moving here. We need more housing, period, everywhere. And that needs to happen with collaboration between the city and developers. However, there’s also this other factor that is escalating prices and is escalating both rents and the price of homeownership that we’re not addressing. So I feel like addressing the root causes beneath the unaffordability crisis is essential if we’re ever gonna get ahead of this—as well as building enough workforce housing, addressing the missing middle, creating enough low income housing to make sure we have enough housing so that our communities are diverse economically. So, building more density and doing mandatory affordability along with growth is a great solution, but it’s only one small slice. We need a lot more.
ES: You alluded to an unseen “other factor” driving up the unaffordability crisis. What is that?
CM: Well, once a city gets hot and the prices start escalating the whole world piles on. So we’re bringing in all these speculators and profiteers who are buying our real estate, using it for profiteering, and re-selling it. And they’re part of the escalation. So it’s an additional kind of turbocharge to the demand by people who—they don’t want to live here. They’re basically profiteering off our growth. And so we want to get ahead of that. We have to understand, specifically, the dynamics of how it’s happening. And this city has access to the data but they’re not revealing it. The same thing happened in Vancouver, BC—they kept pretending like, "Oh, this is not a problem. Growth is good. It’s not our fault that prices are escalating." We should be understanding the dynamic. Is it corporate investors? Is it Wall Street profiteering? Is it non-resident owners buying second, third, fourth homes as an investment? Is it Airbnb? It’s some part of all those things, and we need to understand what is driving this and then put in targeted taxes to disincentivize this behavior and dampen the speculation.
ES: In Vancouver, the solution ended up being a tax on foreign buyers, right?
CM: Corporate and non-resident owners is the actual term. I think people like to use “foreign” to imply something different than it is. It’s people profiteering instead of living in the spaces.
ES: So do you support a tax on corporate and non-resident buyers of real estate in Seattle?
ES: What would that look like?
CM: In Vancouver, it’s 15 percent additional tax on the price of the property, which deters them from buying the property. It immediately dampened that activity when they did it in Vancouver. And in addition, a vacant property tax—if you buy property but don’t use it, don’t rent it out to anybody, then a tax on that.
ES: Do you know what percentage of tax you’d like to levy on vacant properties in Seattle?
CM: I’m not sure.
ES: Do you think that the City of Seattle has the authority to levy this kind of tax?
CM: We need to figure out how. We need to turn over every rock and figure out what legal capacity we do have to do this.
ES: You will obviously have to work with the council if you’re going to get this done. One way that I sometimes sort city candidates in my mind is to compare them to current council members. Whose leadership style on the council do you think you’d be closest to?
CM: I would say Mike O’Brien and Lisa Herbold. I share their values. I share their inclusive way of operating, their commitment to digging into the details.
ES: And I should ask: Are you running as a Democrat? There’s a lot of parties floating around right now. The People’s Party, Socialist Alternative, other brands of socialists…
CM: You know, can I get back to you on that? Because I actually haven’t had that discussion. [Moon’s consultant, Heather Weiner, soon clarified that while Mayor of Seattle is a non-partisan position, Moon will be running as a Democrat.]
ES: There are other candidates in the race in addition to Murray. There’s Nikkita Oliver, Andres Salomon, and then today Mike McGinn. How do you see yourself as importantly different than the three other candidates and their visions?
CM: With Nikkita Oliver—I’m hugely impressed with her brilliance. She has vision and clarity and has created space for herself and her movement that I want to honor, because I really respect what she’s doing. That said, I feel like I can run alongside her because we share so many of the same values. And I would like us, as two strong women, to create that kind of dialogue about solutions and really shift the debate from what it’s been in our city to what it could be around equity, around inclusiveness, around building prosperity for everyone. Her approach and my approach together can spark a really creative dialogue.
ES: Andres Salomon?
CM: I love what he’s doing for pedestrians, and walkability, and great streets, and focusing on safety. He’s raising really important issues, and I appreciate his voice.
ES: Mike McGinn? He’s announcing right now, as we’re talking. And it seems like you and McGinn have approached things from the same direction before, particularly in terms of your shared opposition to the downtown tunnel project. What disagreements do you have with him?
CM: That’s a good question. I like him. He’s a friend. I think we have different approaches and different styles of leadership.
ES: What’s the difference?
CM: I am committed to listening, to building shared commitment to vision, and sharing power and collaborating with partners, because that’s the way to achieve transformative change.
ES: The knock on McGinn was that he didn’t get along well with the city council—or anyone. And I think some of that might have been amped up by the Seattle Times editorial board, which really didn’t like him, but a lot of that was just Mike. So how would you get along better? Because you seem to be putting out that there that getting along and being collaborative is very important to you.
CM: I think it goes back to vision. Building a shared vision of what we want Seattle to be like on the other side of this flux we’re going through now. Building a shared commitment, and builing the trust to understand that everybody’s got great ideas to contribute and we all win when we get the best ideas in place. I’m not a grandstander. I don’t have a big ego. I like being part of a team that’s building constructive solutions, and I don’t need to take credit for things or be out in front.
ES: Nikkita Oliver has talked about a kind of “pause” on development—a kind of Wait while we figure out what’s going on sort of idea. It doesn’t sound like that’s where you are.
CM: No. I’ve been figuring out what’s going on for the past ten years. I understand it. And I see the solutions and I see what we need to do.
ES: Where Oliver's coming from with her idea of a pause, as I understand it, is that a lot of the up-zoning of Seattle is happening in neighborhoods where people are already being displaced. I don’t understand, honestly, exactly where she goes next with this idea—whether we would just do up-zoning in Ballard and not south Seattle, or something like that. But she’s also raised the idea that there are people who are working class homeowners who can barely afford to stay in their homes because of rising property taxes, and because their neighborhoods are being up-zoned and the new condos and apartments are not affordable. And to all of that, I hear a response, for now, of, “Stop.”
CM: I think it’s a matter of understanding the root causes and attacking this problem at its root. Being aware of the symptoms, but to not put band aids on the symptoms but rather fix the problem at its root. For me, those solutions include having a strong renters protection policy in place. The renters commission is a good start but we need to have strong tenants rights and specific, targeted solutions to prevent displacement in communities of color where the problem is absolutely the worst.
ES: So what would those specific, targeted solutions be?
CM: I would like to do more research about what’s working in other cities, because I feel like there are things you can do to help businesses stay in place and keep the wealth that they generate in the community, flowing back into the community. There are things you can do to prevent displacement and eviction of families with kids. You can target how to build the affordable housing that we need in those communities and make it available to people within those communities instead of outsiders. There’s a whole series of subtle, targeted solutions you can use to help growth happen in an equitable and sustainable way that respects communities and helps them stay together.
ES: While not pausing things like height increase in neighborhoods outside of downtown?
CM: Well, I think in the Central District and parts of south Seattle, we do need to take a particular look at the dynamics of those neighborhoods. Who are the developers? What are they trying to build? Who is it for? And how do we specifically address those communities, because they are more vulnerable, and more valuable, and need to be protected.
ES: Stepping back, what’s your overall view on Seattle’s growth?
CM: I want everyone to feel welcome and like they belong here. Blaming the newcomers is not where I’m coming from. We have a really robust economy, but I want the economy to share prosperity for everyone. So in terms of who’s getting the benefit of the growth—it’s all going to the one percent. I think we need to understand that dynamic and put the right tools in place to block that, and then we can welcome new people into our city, and build enough housing for the people who want to live here, without feeding this beast of cost-escalation and profiteering.
ES: So there’s the one-percent who we can describe as non-resident buyers and profiteers—you’ve corrected my language around that. And then there’s the one-percent who are already here in Seattle. With the second group in mind, there’s been some discussion from Council member Kshama Sawant and others of a tax on the one-percent in Seattle. That would be an income tax on the wealthiest residents of this city. Do you support that?
CM: I support a capital gains tax and using the real estate excise tax to put additional tax on luxury properties. I support looking at every single tool we have. I think an income tax is possibly the biggest lift and the hardest to pull off, and I feel like there are other ways to achieve that aim that are more viable and more likely to prevail.
ES: What do you think about taxes on homeowners in Seattle currently? Nikkita Oliver has raised the issue, and there’s a lot of discussion about whether we’ve gone too far in funding progressive Seattle measures by raising people’s property taxes. Where are you on this? Is this a problem? Or are we not property-taxed enough, which is what some other people would say?
CM: I think that lower-income people and middle class people have been generous enough. I mean, we voted yes to sales tax increases and property tax increases, and we still have one of the most regressive tax systems in the country. So I think it’s time to identify new potential paths to generating the revenue we need for the infrastructure we need. Enough. Especially in the past couple years we’ve said yes to I think seven additional taxes. That’s enough. Let’s hold with that and find other sources.
ES: Back to the issue of gentrification. One of the challenges with this debate is that people define gentrification differently. How do you define gentrification, and where is it a problem in Seattle, and what do you do about it?
CM: I would define gentrification as the belief that whoever has the most money deserves to have the most power. And so that means that a community that is intact, that is mutually supportive, healthy, can be blown apart by anybody who wants to come in and claim that space. To me, that’s what gentrification is. And in our city, it’s the biggest problem in neighborhoods that have been historically redlined and have been majority people of color. Their real estate prices were suppressed by government and society for decades, and then, when white people decided, "Hey, we’d like to live there," we came in and started buying up real estate and housing and, you know, the communities are being impacted and displaced. So, for me, getting ahead of gentrification means working directly with communities, looking at what has worked in other cities, because it’s a really difficult problem. Somehow we have to grow, but we have to help communities stay in place and benefit from the growth. So we have to figure out how to do that, and it’s not simple. But there are specific things a city can do to guide that, rather than the laissez faire, “Sorry, you lost” attitude we have now.
ES: Stepping back to an even wider-lens view, something you said in your last answer made me think: This is really the whole debate right now. You said something like, “We have to grow, but we have to stay the same.” Right? That’s basically what’s expressed in Mike McGinn’s new slogan, “Keep Seattle,” although I would say he’s more on the stay the same side. But this is the tension in the city—for people who have lived here longer than a few years, anyway. I think people who are new to the city are not super invested in it staying the same as it was. They're not even sure what it quote-unquote was. But: How are you going to juggle those really conflicting impulses? We have to grow. You agree with that. We have to stay the same. You agree with that, too, when it comes to certain neighborhoods.
CM: I wouldn’t say stay the same. I want to make sure that the communities are at the table, involved in the decisions of how growth happens and how to protect what’s essential to their culture and their community and the way they want to live in Seattle. Yes, there’s tension, but there’s always tension around that.
ES: Let’s talk about transportation. A lot of what goes on in the transportation world—as you know from your work on the waterfront—runs through Olympia and not Seattle. But what will you do as mayor to solve Seattle’s transportation problems? What can you do?
CM: I feel like we need to get ahead of growth with investments in transit. So, looking at how we invest at the city level in additional transit service—and bus only lanes—it’s about getting enough of an investment in transit and being really ruthlessly efficient in how we allocate the street space that we do have. That means space for busses, space for a complete bike network, making sure neighborhoods are all walkable, and doing everything we can to make those more space efficient modes the modes of choice and give people real alternatives to driving. That’s the only way we’re going to get ahead of the congestion problem.
ES: Okay, I’m going to try to place you on the transportation policy spectrum in this city through a few questions. First, let’s take one that’s current. You live behind the Pike Place Market. There’s a story today in The Seattle Times asking, “Why are there still cars driving on that cobblestone street in front of the market that’s also heavily pedestrian trafficked?” So the question is: Should we close the market street to cars?
CM: I’m in the market every day, and I see the beautiful success of how that street works. People need to come to the market in a car to deliver produce and flowers and merchandise. And people who shop there, who actually grocery shop in the market, some of them need to park close by. That street has never had a pedestrian accident because cars are paying attention to pedestrians, they go slow, and it’s this incredible model of shared space, of what you can do when cars recognize, "Hey, we don’t own this space, we have to share it." To me, it’s a great model. We shouldn’t change it.
ES: Will you commit to the city fully funding its bicycle master plan if you’re mayor?
CM: Yes. I think a regular, complete bike network, where regular people—not just the spandex crowd—feel safe is essential to helping everyone bike.
ES: It has not been fully funded for… ever. How will you get there?
CM: That’s a good question. I’ll need to sit down and work out with the budget office and the city council what the right path is there.
ES: What do you think about the idea for a lid over I-5?
CM: I think the pedestrian traffic back and forth between downtown and Capitol Hill deserves a more pleasant experience crossing the highway. So a lid that’s a block wide, I think that makes perfect sense because you make the walking experience that much better and create some public space where we desperately need it. I think it’s kind of impractical to think of much more than that.
ES: Is there a “war on cars” in Seattle?
CM: I don’t think there is.
ES: Should there be?
CM: [Laughs.] You know, as a mom I have to ferry my kids back and forth with their stuff sometimes, so I’m not against driving. But I feel like we need to provide better alternatives. And to provide better alternatives, you’ve got to reclaim some of that space and be really efficient with how we use our street grid. So, bus-only lanes, bus priority at intersections, protected bike lanes—having those networks be really complete and effective is the way to get all the people who would rather take those modes—and would if they were convenient, safe, and affordable—that’s the way to attract them to those modes. The more we can do that, the more room there is for people who have to drive, and for trucks and freight doing delivery.
ES: Last question: If you win, you will be the first woman to be the Mayor of Seattle in something like 90 years. What do you think has taken so long?
CM: Wow. I would say that the way we play politics and our progressive values as a society in Seattle don’t really match. I feel like we have this sense of inclusiveness, that we all belong here, that we all have equal right to shape the future of our city, we all want to participate, we want to be part of a constructive, healthy community—that’s how our values are. And our politics are way more aggressive and hardball, and I think it’s time for a different kind of politics in Seattle that’s more about sharing power, listening, coalition building, and working together toward shared goals.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.