After losing the election for mayor of Seattle to Jenny Durkan last November, Cary Moon took a long break. The time she spent campaigning over most of 2017 was something very different for Moon, who had never run for office before, and she spent the months after reflecting on the race and the challenges facing our city and country. I sat down with Cary Moon in late January to see what she thinks are the next steps for her, and for Seattle.
Ryan Packer (RP): So what’s next for Cary Moon?
Cary Moon (CM): I really was excited to be part of building a movement for what Seattle could be, and I met so many fantastic people and got connected to so much advocacy towards a constructive vision and I want to play a role in supporting, convening, and connecting all the great efforts I saw, and participated in, and hope to play a role helping to build momentum. There are so many people doing amazing projects that don’t get a lot of visibility or get our attention and I think if we understood how much progressive, constructive energy there was in this city we could combine it, we could do a lot with it.
RP: You purposefully ran a campaign that was different in tone from many of the other candidates, particularly in the general election. Were there things that you feel you were not able to effectively communicate when you were running for Mayor?
CM: So what I learned is that cities are complex, fascinating, challenging, and we love them and that’s why we all live here. But there’s so much that’s going wrong in our city that’s nuanced and complex and we need to get people’s attention and really get them to start looking past the symptom and towards the cause, solving the problem at its root, it was always frustrating when I couldn’t do that because politicians basically don’t have the depth of knowledge or don’t want to play the game that way. Instead they talk about band-aids, say hey I’ll do this one easy thing, call a press conference, call it done. I wish I had had the opportunity to talk more deeply about transformative change, and process, and how we get to the change we need… it was always hard to claim space to have that conversation. And then also the way the mainstream media wants to make politics about “who’s tougher?”, “who can have the quick hot take?” as if it’s entertainment. That kind of coverage is maddening because leadership like that, leading like a bully, claiming credit, claiming power doesn’t work, and it’s not what the city wants.
I think this city wants to collaborate, wants to work together and want our leaders to listen and build constructive solutions based on expertise from the community, and unfortunately the media doesn’t want to have that conversation. The media wants to portray it as an athletic match, like it’s about who’s got the ball now. It got really exhausting during the campaign.
RP: Do you think the challenge to have a systemic conversation was a product of how campaigns work, or this campaign specifically?
CM: I think that shift is happening right now in our culture, and it’s made manifest in how many women are running for office nationally right now. That whole way of doing things is not how we want this country to work. And so I think the change is happening in our culture but, for example The Seattle Times, they weren’t ready for that change yet and so they weren’t allowing that kind of conversation. And our city, we hadn’t had woman as mayor in over 90 years, and when we’ve had the kind of big egos and bullies in the mayor’s office over the past 20 years, we still have this culture of what the mayor is that people are used to, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Having that conversation about leadership while establishing my credentials, and talking about the issues, was tough. But I think it was worth doing, for example, now we have a supermajority of women on the city council and all of a sudden people are saying “wait a minute, there’s all this space for collaboration” among the council and with the mayor’s office, and so I think the culture in our city is shifting toward that.
RP: One of your main pitches in the campaign was your depth of knowledge of the nitty-gritty of city policy. Do you think you were able to effectively draw a comparison between you and your opponents on those issues?
CM: Before I announced, I spent two months developing a platform, working with other folks, but I wanted to come out with a vision and a platform and really set the debate around solutions: here’s what we have to confront that we’re not confronting, here are some solutions and start from that point. And so I’m really proud of our whole team of volunteers, all of the folks who contributed to shaping that because that was what we need as a city.
I think my opponent didn’t come with knowledge or expertise: I would often cringe when I saw her have an idea spur-of-the-moment on how to solve a problem. But, that being said, throughout the 230 plus debates and forums of talking through ideas, she learned a lot. And I think the whole city was engaged in a dialogue. Everyone sees the problem, and to really have an in-depth conversation about solutions–there’s not a silver bullet, there’s not one thing to do we have to do lots of things, to shift our approaches–so that I think was really great to be part of that conversation, with people putting ideas out there to be discussed.
The other issue around how we operate was really important to talk about because I think a lot of people have this hierarchy idea of what politics is: if you’re really good, you’re at the national level. The state level is a training ground for that, and the cities are a training ground for the state level, and I think it’s the opposite. I think cities are where so many decisions get made that are meaningful to people’s lives. How the city operates, who has power, who gets listened to is really essential and so the whole dialogue around racial equity and how we share power. How does white supremacy operate in Seattle, a city that pretends that everything is good… being able to control that conversation, bring up those issues as Nikkita [Oliver] and I were able to raise during the primary and continue into the general [election campaign].
It’s time for Seattle to confront those issues around who has power, who gets listened to, whose problems get addressed, and whose don’t.
RP: You did attract criticism during the campaign for not being attuned enough to issues around race: did you think that criticism was fair?
CM: The way I felt it, is that we have a serious problem with white people claiming authority and claiming power in leadership in every level: in the advocacy world, in politics. From the beginning, I said that I am committed to sharing power, across race, across gender. From the beginning, I said that we need to confront white supremacy in Seattle, and my commitment to that was true and my commitment to that is still true.
That said, I didn’t have a proven track record. I don’t have receipts, I can’t show you that I’ve been working on those issues for 20 years. And so I’ll accept that criticism, and I will also accept that any white person who is saying that they want to be a force for good in this arena also gets a lot of scrutiny, based on how many people have pretended, or virtue signaled and then not followed through… so I own all of that, the skepticism, and I accept that as real, and I was ready to keep working in that arena. I think white people need to know that it’s going to be uncomfortable from here on out. We need to change how things are done. White people need to accept ownership for past awful injustices that we are currently still benefiting from. So I’m ready to stay and continue that conversation.
RP: One of the main criticisms leveled at you during the campaign was that your proposals weren’t thought out, they were bumper stickers (“Stop the Sweeps”), or didn’t have identified funding sources for proposals. Here in day 50 or so of this mayor’s term in office, how do you reflect on that criticism now?
CM: The way you govern a city with 11,000 employees is you listen, you ask questions, you collaborate with those that are there already, work ideas through. So this idea that the mayor’s just going to come in and knock heads together and make shit happen… it’s just a cop out. It’s not the way that things happen, and to pretend that it is is just deceitful. So I tried to be an honest reflection of that, saying: here’s the principles, here’s the goals, here’s some pathways to get there, here are some people to collaborate with, and that’s as far as you can go before you actually get the job. And so that’s one of those areas where being earnest and honest, I got dinged for that.
The proposals she was putting forward as solutions were too shallow to actually make changes, and actually solve these problems. I’ll pick on free college… yes, that’s a great idea but we have to address the opportunity gap, starting in kindergarten. If we really want to build an education system where everybody can fulfill their dreams, where everyone can thrive, we’ve got to address how underfunded our schools are, why the opportunity gap exists by working with community, and all those things take time, they take commitment and they take collaboration.
And saying oh we’re going to wave a magic wand, and spent $5 million on tuition, and all of a sudden we’ll solve the problem… nobody really believed that.
RP: You are perhaps most famous for your work advocating for Seattle’s waterfront. Are you expecting to get back into that fight?
CM: No, I mean, we lost the transportation fight. We were advocating for transit, and street improvements, instead of a bypass and we lost, and that’s done. The waterfront, I think, the design is good, except for the street itself. With WSDOT involved, there’s not a lot of opportunity to fix that. But the plans for the waterfront itself–great civic space is one of the most important things to create a livable welcome city. Basically, you need to have as much public space, access to socializing that you can that is free. So I want to make sure that it’s inclusive and welcoming and free, and I’ll be keeping my eye on it.
But what I am more interested in is really moving the needle on the affordability crisis, the homelessness crisis, the growing crisis around income inequality: these issues are man-made issues, we created them. We have to take ownership of them. We are becoming a playground for the wealthy, and losing generations of creativity. That’s not healthy. We need to keep low-income people, artists, people of color, all the people who are being displaced and gentrified out.
RP: What I am hearing you say is that your intention is to primarily be a drum major around the issue of housing?
CM: I think yes, housing and homelessness are immediate crises, but there are so many issues around wealth inequality. There are so many things around having a more fair and balanced tax system at the state level that could have an immediate impact on what the city can do. I want to make sure we’re building ways to collaborate across all issues, but I know that I want to be involved in housing, anti-displacement, anti-gentrification issues right now. Above all, we need to come together to imagine what our vision looks like together, rather that focusing on what’s directly in front of them.
For me, politically, with the first year of Donald Trump ending right now, I think we’ve all seen how utterly trickle-down neoliberal democracy has failed, and people are hungry for an alternative. The dialogue for an alternative needs to be really robust, and it can happen in Seattle because we have such great organizations in the form of DSA [Democratic Socialists of America], and the People’s Party. We have a broad coalition and the ability to be the voice for the country that asks, what does a 21st century version of socialism look like? Where, yes we have entrepreneurs and startups, but we also have healthcare for everyone, and an education system, and great transit, and affordable housing. The solutions for those issues can come from a version of socialism and we can start having that conversation here.
RP: Is there anything that you think people should be doing right now, to push these issues forward in a better direction?
CM: I think the Housing For All Campaign [is]. The Transit Riders Union is a great organization that is really smart about collaborating, and strategy. I think the People’s Party, DSA are really promising structures. But I also want to ask everyone to reach across issues. If you’re working on safe streets, find folks working on racial equity and build trust. If you’re working on minimum wage and labor issues, find some urbanists who are working on how to make a better city where we all can live and thrive. The more we get siloed, the harder it will be. The more we can build trust, the stronger we will be.
RP: Your first public appearance since the campaign was an event you hosted with your friend, the poet Frances McCue, talking about the role that art and poetry in particular plays in shaping a city. What made you chose that event?
CM: Doing a dialogue with Frances was fun, because after spending eight or nine months in the political arena, where there’s a certain way of communicating, a certain way of showing absolute-ness, to really get to re-engage the creative world, the world of arts which is basically about posing questions and asking “what if?” and acknowledging what’s not working it was really valuable to acknowledge how valid that way of thinking is and how politics is so different from that.
Artists reflect back our culture, they reflect who we are as a society, and we need to listen to them.