On Friday night, September 14, at Seattle’s Central Library, The Stranger’s arts editors will be handing out five Genius Awards (along with $5,000 to each winner) for excellence in theater, film, literature, visual arts, and one award to an arts organization. The party honoring the artists includes bands, wine, and the adoring public.

The Stranger news team doesn’t have a sexy shindig (or $25,000 to hand out), but we do think there are some locals who deserve recognition for stamping their influence on public policy this past year—which is no easy feat. Not only do you need original, worthy ideas, but you’ve got to know how to play political chess so you can ice your opponents with “checkmate.”

That’s certainly the case of this year’s Political Genius, who outmaneuvered the entire political establishment—the governor, the mayor, the state speaker of the house, and the city council president—to emerge as the victor after one of the most testy and historic special elections in city history. Our three runners-up are ones to watch in the coming year.

— Josh Feit, News Editor

Cary Moon, founder of the People's Waterfront Coalition (PWC) and stealth activist extraordinaire, has reshaped the debate around transportation in the Puget Sound region. Where transportation planners once focused on increasing capacity for cars, they now focus on improving the mobility of people and goods, a pivotal change for which Moon is directly responsible.

Moon, as readers of The Stranger are no doubt aware, is the brains behind one of the most successful underdog campaigns in recent local history—the poorly funded, seemingly quixotic effort to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a "surface/transit option": a surface street, enhanced transit, and improvements to the surface street grid downtown. The option emerged as the front-runner after last March's special viaduct election.

Three years ago, when Moon founded the PWC with fellow transit activist Grant Cogswell, the group was little more than a ragtag band of transit proponents who were frustrated with the lack of vision on the viaduct issue among mainstream urban-planning groups like Allied Arts.

Moon's political genius is her ability to see the long-term picture; when others laughed at her for supporting what many called a ridiculous, long-shot option ("But where will all the cars go?"), Moon ignored them. While leaders bickered over whether to replace the viaduct with a larger viaduct or expensive tunnel, Moon quietly bided her time, consciously threading the needle between the two opposing positions. Over time, she gained the confidence of opinion leaders such as Council Member Peter Steinbrueck, an environmental advocate who saw the surface/transit option as a way to save billions and improve the climate in the bargain.

Then came last March's vote against both waterfront freeway options. That "no/no" vote wasn't just a defeat for the mayor's tunnel and the governor's bigger, uglier new viaduct. It was also a major victory for Moon and others who supported the surface/transit option, which emerged as the most affordable, environmentally sustainable option, and the officially "preferred" option of both the mayor and the city council and all the current council candidates.

After the vote, the council allocated $500,000 to study a surface/transit viaduct replacement. Even the state highway department, long one of the most adamant backers of a new waterfront freeway, has since changed its tune, agreeing to define the "capacity" of a road as its ability to move people and goods, not just cars. That's a major concession, and one that could lead to the state, not just the city, accepting a smaller and saner road on the waterfront. The political ground around roads in Washington State has shifted, and Cary Moon (and the PWC) can take much of the credit. recommended