Cary Moon is best-known for fighting for a park instead of a big highway or viaduct replacement along the Seattle waterfront, but that fight was a decade ago and she may have trouble distinguishing herself from other progressives in a crowded mayor’s race.

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Cary Moon promises to tackle the biggest challenges facing Seattle — the skyrocketing cost of housing, the chronic traffic congestion and the increase in homelessness. With backgrounds as both an urban planner and an engineer, she says if she’s elected mayor, she would be a problem-solver, bringing people together and rallying them around a shared vision of a more equitable city.

“We see housing becoming unaffordable and pushing people out. We see an economy that’s generating tremendous wealth but only for a small percentage of us. We see the disinvestment in addiction and mental-health services deepening the homeless crisis and our city leaders not getting ahead of these challenges,” Moon said in a recent interview.

Moon, 54, is best known for fighting for a park instead of a big highway or viaduct replacement along the Seattle waterfront, but losing the fight against the deep-bore tunnel that was ultimately drilled. But that battle was a decade ago and in a race crowded with progressives, politicians and attorneys, the woman friends describe as quiet and thoughtful may have trouble attracting an energized constituency who will work to get her elected.

2017 Seattle mayoral race

Moon picked up a key endorsement this week from The Stranger, which said that what Moon lacks in campaign sizzle she makes up for with a bold vision and detailed policy proposals.

The June fatal shooting of Charleena Lyles by two Seattle police officers has also brought renewed urgency to the issues of police reform and oversightin the mayor’s race. Moon speaks out about racial inequality on the campaign trail and she favors giving the Community Police Commission direct oversight of the department, rather than an advisory role.

But some political observers say she doesn’t have a track record of leadership on issues important to the city’s communities of color.

“The issues of racism in many communities, of police reform, have been amplified in the last few weeks. I have yet to see her take a strong stand. I haven’t seen her voice there,” said Monisha Harrell, a political consultant and chair of the state LGBTQ advocacy group, Equal Rights Washington. Harrell said that on issues Moon is better known for, including the environment and transportation, former Mayor Mike McGinn occupies the same space and has political experience and supporters.

Editor's note

Before the Aug. 1 primary, The Seattle Times is profiling leading candidates for Seattle mayor, selected based on civic involvement, endorsements, campaign activity and money raised.  Learn more about all 21 candidates in our interactive online voter's guide.

“She would have to overtake a known quantity with arguably deeper ties,” Harrell said.

Moon, who founded the People’s Waterfront Coalition in 2004, says that while both she and McGinn supported a streets-and-transit option to replace the viaduct and both opposed the tunnel that is now being completed, McGinn did little to advance the surface option as mayor — but memorably fought the tunnel.

“He’s happiest when he’s fighting, right? I’m not like that. I’m happiest when we can find a common vision and all feel inspired to do our best work together,” Moon said.

A recent KING 5/KUOW poll of likely voters showed 3 percent support for Moon, who lacks the name recognition of some of the other candidates in the mayor’s race. The Municipal League of King County gave her a “very good” rating, the same as McGinn and activist and educator Nikkita Oliver, but behind former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, state Senator Bob Hasegawa and former state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, who were all rated “outstanding.”

Moon has kept herself competitive in part by matching campaign donations with her own money, wealth she said comes from the sale of her family’s manufacturing business in Michigan. Through July 10, she reported almost $144,000 in contributions, second only to Durkan, who had $353,000. But more than $90,000 of Moon’s money was her own.

“A healthy neighborhood”

Moon, who lives downtown with her husband and two teenage children, has distinguished herself on the campaign trail with a detailed and ambitious plan to address housing affordability. She calls Mayor Ed Murray’s “grand bargain” with developers to incentivize apartment construction through upzones and create affordable units, “a good first step.”

She’d go further. She wants a tax on corporate and nonresident ownership of housing, (similar to the 15 percent tax on foreign investors in Vancouver, B.C.) a tax on vacant properties and an additional real-estate excise tax on luxury properties, all to deter speculation and “profiteering” in the hot Seattle housing market.

Sh

Cary Moon has been endorsed by The Stranger, which said that what she lacks in campaign sizzle she makes up for with a bold vision and detailed proposals. (Kjell Redal/The Seattle Times)
Cary Moon has been endorsed by The Stranger, which said that what she lacks in campaign sizzle she makes up for with a bold vision and detailed proposals. (Kjell Redal/The Seattle Times)

e’d build significantly more public and nonprofit housing in communities facing the most displacement pressure. And she’d open up the city land-use code to allow denser, multifamily housing in single-family neighborhoods including backyard cottages, duplexes, row houses, clustered housing and congregate housing.

“A healthy neighborhood has people at all income levels, at all stages in life. All those things I mentioned, we’ve basically made those impossible to build. And what is possible to build are very large, five-story apartment buildings and four-packs over a garage court.”

She said single-family neighborhoods were left out of the mayor’s housing- affordability committee deliberations and were blindsided by the recommendation to upzone across the city.

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“We could have done a better job rolling it out with neighbors. Have a constructive conversation about how to do this together in a way that would work for them,” Moon said.

Moon holds a bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Michigan, and she ran her family’s manufacturing business, with its 100 employees, from 1991 to 1994. She returned to college and earned a master’s degree in landscape architecture with a certificate in urban design from the University of Pennsylvania in 1997. After moving to Seattle, she ran an urban-planning and design firm from 1998 to 2006. The firm’s projects included a Pioneer Square Neighborhood Plan.

Her vision for city

Moon was hoping to win the endorsement of Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien, but O’Brien is backing Oliver, calling the activist attorney the candidate who can empower the city’s marginalized communities and change the status quo.

But O’Brien has been a Moon fan and donated $250 to her campaign. The two met in about 2004 when O’Brien was a Sierra Club activist, a time when he said most of the city wasn’t questioning that the viaduct would be replaced by another highway.

“I remember being so impressed by her vision for a city that didn’t rely on automobiles so much,” O’Brien said. “I thought, how is this woman, going into people’s living rooms, going to change the course of history? And then she did.”

For her work to turn 22 acres of public space along Elliott Bay into a public park and to help launch the planning and design effort, Moon was awarded a Political Genius Award from the Stranger in 2007, Citizen of the Year from the Muni League in 2009 and the Change Agent of the Year from Real Change in 2011.

Since then, friends and colleagues say, Moon has purposefully set about educating herself more broadly on civic and political issues, including racial equity. She points to the education-achievement gap in Seattle schools, the falling homeownership rate among African Americans in the city and the U.S. Department of Justice’s findings that the Police Department showed evidence of biased policing.

“We think: Oh, we’re all good liberals, and give ourselves a pass. I believe it’s our shared responsibility to work with people of color who have been leading this effort for decades, and support them and listen to them to make changes,” Moon said.

Over the past few years, Moon has served on the board of directors of the Progress Alliance, an organization that marshalls funding from major donors and channels the money to seed and support progressive nonprofits including Fuse and Washington Bus.

One of those donors, Martha Wyckoff, also met Moon during the viaduct and tunnel debates, and she has watched as Moon widened her interests and honed her strategic thinking.

“I don’t think she thinks about anything other than how to make this city a better place,” said Wyckoff. “She wants all voices at the table being respectfully heard. When she’s working with a group of people, she really empowers them. That’s leadership.”

We asked leading mayoral candidates to explain — in less than a minute — how they are a “typical Seattleite” and how they are “atypical.” (Lauren Frohne / The Seattle Times)