Over the past 15 years, Seattle mayoral candidate Cary Moon has been better known for her activism than for her political ambitions. But the urban designer and landscape architect surprised many when she placed second in the city’s top-two primary election in August.
Moon has famously battled her way through City Council and state legislators in search of a solution to the crumbling Alaskan Way Viaduct that no longer blocks human access to the city’s waterfront.
While she may not have gotten exactly she wanted, the state Department of Transportation ultimately opted for a hybrid plan that incorporated many of Moon’s proposals with plans for a deep-bore tunnel through downtown that is currently under construction.
Despite this success, Moon has battled accusations from her rival, former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan, that she is underqualified for the job. And while Moon has admitted her resume is somewhat unconventional, she is adamant that her civic experience and time with her family business has more than prepared her for the position.
Here’s what you need to know about Cary Moon:
1. A Native of Michigan, Moon Is a Landscape & Urban Designer Whose Family Owned a Manufacturing Business
Raised in Buchanan, Michigan, Moon moved to Seattle almost two decades ago, founding the landscape and urban design firm Landscape Agents (Moon is the sole employee), which won a city contract to do the neighborhood plan for Pioneer Square.
Prior to her move to Washington, Moon had helped run her family’s business, Pro-Tech Respirators, an industrial respirator manufacturing firm, before the family sold the business in 1995 for about $10 million. Along with her brothers and sisters, she inherited about $1 million of that payout in 2014 after both her parents passed.
Additionally, Moon serves on the boards of the Progressive Alliance and the One City Advisory Board. She holds a BS in engineering from the University of Michigan, and a master of landscape architecture and urban design from the University of Pennsylvania.
2. She Is Best Known for Her Work as Director of the People’s Waterfront Coalition, a Group That Blocked the Construction of a New Freeway on Seattle’s Waterfront
The Alaskan Way Viaduct is a split-level highway section of State Route 99 built in the 1950s, which runs along the waterfront through downtown Seattle. In 2001, a magnitude 6.1 earthquake rocked the Pacific Northwest, damaging the highway and the supporting seawall.
Though the Washington State Department of Transportation poured millions into emergency repairs, engineers recommended that the viaduct be replaced after concluding that the structure had a 1 in 20 chance of failing in the event of another severe earthquake.
Over the next few years, the WSDOT considered a number of proposals for the project, eventually settling on a $4.1 billion six-lane, split-level tunnel in 2004.
The same year, Moon co-founded the People’s Waterfront Coalition with activist Grant Cogswell. The coalition proposed that the viaduct not be rebuilt with the aim at maintaining or increasing its traffic capacity, but instead to redirect traffic, increase mass transit, and create a walkable neighborhood along the waterfront.
The proposal stemmed from existing emergency measures that WSDOT employed whenever the viaduct had to be closed for any reason, but critics said that lowering the corridor’s traffic capacity would have disastrous effects on gridlock.
Over the next several years, a series of hybrid replacement proposals were put before Seattle voters due to the strong opposition to the cut-and-cover project. In 2011, voters finally approved a two-mile, deep-bored tunnel that will run beneath downtown in addition to a demolition of the viaduct. The project also includes a new, one-mile stretch of highway at the southern entrance to the tunnel, and a new surface street along the waterfront connecting SR 99 to downtown Seattle.
Moon’s advocacy of a surface/mass transit alternative to the initial cut-and-cover tunnel plan is widely credited with turning the tide of public opinion and City Council support. She has since won The Stranger’s Political Genius Award in 2007, made Seattle Magazine’s list of Most Influential People 2006, and won the Municipal League’s Citizen of the Year award in 2009.
3. Her Resume Has Drawn Criticism From Her Opponent, Who Claims She’s Not Qualified to Run the City
Moon has called her work history “weird,” and that of a “gadfly and urban thinker.”
“Like a lot of women, my resume is not packed with full-time jobs because I had obligations as a single mom,” she told Crosscut. “When you have such family obligations, you don’t always have specific full-time jobs. I took advantage of the fact that I inherited money and that I was married to someone who makes enough money for both of us to do a deep dive into public service.”
Her rival, Jenny Durkan, has criticized her lack of management experience, saying that Moon is unqualified to run a city with an annual budget of $5.6 billion. But other public figures have pointed out that former mayors, like Ed Murray and Charley Royer, came into office with little to no management experience.
“My experience with managing people directly was through my family business, which was not 10 years ago,” said Moon during a candidate forum at the Seattle Rotary Club. “I did a lot of collaborative work through progressive organizations in the city in the past 10 years and the collaboration of the People’s Waterfront Coalition.”
4. Moon Is Worth About $4.1 Million and Has Self-Funded About Half of Her Campaign
According to her financial disclosures during this election cycle, Moon is worth about $4.1 million. Her family owned an industrial respirator manufacturing business, where she worked during the early 1990s. Shortly after her tenure with the company, the family sold it to a large French company in 1995 for about $10 million, according to Moon (SEC documents place the sale at $6.8 million, but Moon has sad that number does not include employee buyouts).
Upon her parents’ death in 2011, Moon received a $1 million inheritance.
Her husband, Mark Reddington, is one of eight partners at LMN Architects, which Glassdoor lists as pulling in between $10 and $25 million in annual revenue. The couple live in a $1.8 million condo near Pike Place Market.
Of the $323,273 Moon has raised for her campaign, $174,169 of it has come out of her own pocket as of October 26. Her opponent, Jenny Durkan—who is wealthier still than Moon—has criticized her for self-funding her campaign.
“We are both very wealthy women, Cary Moon and I,” she said during the Rainier Valley Radio debate (Moon is an urban designer). “The one thing I haven’t done with wealth is fund my own campaign … I’ve put $400 in. She’s put hundreds of thousands of dollars in,” Durkan claimed.
Moon has responded by disparaging what she calls Durkan’s corporate sponsors. A PAC funded by corporations like Amazon and Comcast recently donated $525,000 to campaign on Durkan’s behalf, independently of Durkan herself.
5. Moon’s Husband, Mark Reddington, Is a Prominent Seattle Architect, Which Might Require Her to Recuse Herself From Some Key Decisions If Elected Mayor
Moon is married to Mark Reddington, a partner at LMN Architects, with whom she has two teenaged children. According to his professional biography, Reddington has won “over 120 awards including national and international awards for architecture, urban design and sustainability. He leads projects in all market sectors including convention centers, performing arts, education and transportation and brings a strong focus on enhancing the public realm through design excellence.”
Reddington is currently involved in the expansion project for the Washington State Convention Center, which has raised concerns about conflicts of interest should Moon win the mayorship. Executive Director of Seattle Ethics and Elections Commission Wayne Barnett told Seattle Weekly that Moon would have to recuse herself should a conflict of interest arise.
“It’s time to bring back transparency and the highest level of ethics to the Mayor’s office,” said Moon, indicating she would do whatever necessary to maintain the ethical integrity of the office.
The couple’s two children attend Seattle Academy, a private school. “The [public school] option we were offered was in Wallingford. There was no way I was going to make that trip twice a day to get my kid to school,” Moon explained during a speech at a senior living facility. “And so we weren’t offered an option that worked for our family and we had the ability to go to private school. We wanted to stay in the public school system but like a lot of families we weren’t offered a choice that worked for us.”