When reaching for a metaphor to describe the vibe in North Seattle’s Council District 5, Lisa Rivera Smith, a school board director and a vice chair for a local Democratic club, pointed to the Lake City Community Center, a once bustling place that caught fire last month and closed its doors indefinitely. 

“The community center wasn't getting the attention it needed. And now it's burned down,” she said. “Hopefully something beautiful rises on those ashes.”

Despite possessing rather enthusiastic district champion in outgoing Council President Debra Juarez, Smith said some voters feel as if the council has back-burnered North Seattle’s concerns, so candidates who hope to win there must focus on its specific issues, such the construction of the new light rail infill station, housing development, and improvements to the hostile Aurora corridor. 

But as North Seattle’s problems persist and the neighborhoods brace for new development, some residents said the district’s next council member needs to be even bolder. 

“I’m not talking about what the activists are saying, I'm talking about the general feeling in D5, and that’s that the City has ignored D5 for far too long. We have severe problems, the City has promised a lot of things, and none of them have been accomplished,” said Lee Bruch of the Aurora Reimagined Coalition. “We need a very, very active council member to act boldly and push to get things done.”

I’m Normal, I Promise

When asked where gun safety advocate Nilu Jenks fits in the field of candidates for the District 5 City Council race, she said, very directly, “I’m in the middle.”

Sure, Jenks identifies as a “hardcore progressive” compared to Juarez, who usually caucuses with the most conservative members of the council. But she’s far from fringe–she uses a Ruth Bader Ginsburg quote in her email signature, and she said “solutions aren’t in the extremes” but rather lie in “the hard space in the middle.” 

Other D5 candidates offer similar self-assessments. Compass Health payee coordinator Shane MacComber said he’s just “your average man, struggling right alongside everyone else,” and former King County Superior Court Judge Cathy Moore said she’s not interested in occupying any one lane. Even mutual aid organizer Tye Reed, who espouses the left-most views, says her ideas are much less radical than her critics might believe. 

Of course, everyone frames their beliefs as the most rational and agreeable, but candidates Jenks, Macomber, Moore, Reed, and 18-year old Lucca Murdoch Howard distinguished themselves in the recent Seattle Times questionnaire, which only allows candidates to answer “yes,” “no,” or “maybe” if they’re cowards. 

Moore positioned herself as the most pro-cop, pro-business, and even sweep-neutral candidate. Macomber came off as the most wishy-washy, answering “maybe” to more questions than any other candidate who completed the survey. Jenks, Reed, Howard, and equity consultant ChrisTiana Obeysumner (who did not respond to The Strangers request for comment) answered the Seattle Times almost identically. But Jenks had some reservations about the JumpStart payroll tax. 

The differences between the candidates are harder to spot in questions about neighborhood-specific issues. They shared similar ideas for the new light rail infill station, zoning reform, pedestrian safety, and sex worker safety. But the candidates set different goals–some more progressive than others. And others proposed different tactics–some bolder than others. 

Taking Up Juarez’s Fight for the Infill Station

North Seattle residents want the new light rail station at 130th Street done fast and done right. Though Sound Transit expects to open it in 2026, the agency routinely pushes back timelines. 

The five D5 candidates who responded to The Stranger said they wanted to prioritize fast construction (duh). To do that Reed, Jenks, Macomber, and Moore all agreed to help streamline the permitting process and help find a combination of federal, state, and local progressive funding. As for applying pressure, the candidates offered a variety of tactics. 

Jenks and Moore both said they would want to take over Juarez’s spot on the Sound Transit Board of Directors, putting them in a better position to keep construction on track. Macomber wants to explore legislation to impose fees or penalties on municipalities for interfering with deadlines. Reed said she would sponsor a resolution to articulate the community’s specific needs and the council’s expectations in hopes that it would cut down on the agency’s “endless community input sessions.”

Fourplexes, for Christ’s Sake

In the next comprehensive plan, the future D5 rep will also have a say in how the City should rezone the areas immediately surrounding the new infill station.

Sound Transit will conduct an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) for three possible plans–which correspond with Comprehensive Plan Alternatives 1, 2, and 5–before seeking community input this fall. Alternative 1 makes no changes to the current zoning. If the council picks that plan, Sound Transit projects the no-change zoning would allow for 840 units of housing and create 700 jobs between 2025-2044. The other two allow for more density, taller buildings, and more mixed-use spaces. Sound Transit projects Alternative 2 would produce 2,200 new units and create 980 jobs. Alternative 5 would allow for about 2,700 new units and create1,000 jobs. 

Macomber, Moore, Jenks, and 18-year old candidate Howard support Alternative 5, each suggesting a few additional areas they would like to upzone. Jenks added that she would support converting the nearby golf course into a public park.

Reed said she does not support Alternative 5 because it does not go far enough. She advocates for Real Change’s Alternative 6, which urbanists tout as the only proposal that takes the housing crisis seriously. Unlike the other alternatives, Alternative 6 does not rely on the urban village model, which, in the spirit of redlining, concentrates development and affordability in a few pockets around the city.

How Many Affordable Homes Should Seattle Require? 

Regardless of which plan the City ultimately adopts, housing affordability remains a major concern. Even under the current urban villages model, where developers face affordability requirements under the Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) program, the City only forces developers to make somewhere between 2% and 11% of a project’s units affordable depending on the neighborhood. Instead of building affordable housing in those areas, most of the time, developers elect to pay a fee to fund those units offsite. 

Each candidate set different goals for affordability requirements. 

On the low end, Jenks said at least 30% of new development should be affordable. She suggested reworking MHA to make sure projects pencil out for developers so the City can stop accepting in-lieu fees over actual units.

Macomber said 50% of new development should be affordable. He would fund the City’s newly established social housing developer to build and buy permanently affordable units. 

It’s unclear where they’ll find that money. In their Seattle Times questionnaires, Jenks and Macomber were the only candidates in D5 who declined to commit to raising the JumpStart payroll tax, which funds some affordable housing. 

Howard and Moore both said that new development should include as many affordable units as possible. To that end, Howard said he’ll fund the hell out of the social housing developer. He also suggested hiking up MHA to require projects to include more units. Moore said she’ll make a plan with stakeholders. 

Reed said that given the state of the housing crisis, she believes “it’s the City’s obligation to ensure all housing being built is affordable.” Not to steal anyone’s thunder, but she already took initiative on social housing, leading the ballot measure to establish the authority in her role as co-chair of House Our Neighbors! She told The Stranger she would fight for $10 to $20 million for the authority in the budget every year. On top of that, Reed would also “overhaul” or even end design review, which makes housing projects take longer and cost more. 

Aurora Needs Help 

D5 residents also need a council member to fight for improvements to Aurora Avenue North. The corridor lacks adequate sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes. Those issues combined with high-speed, high-volume traffic makes for a very dangerous roadway. According to a study published last year, 17% of all traffic fatalities in Seattle between 2015 and 2019 happened on Aurora Avenue North. Pedestrians account for half of those traffic deaths. 

North Seattleites got their hopes up when state lawmakers dedicated $50 million of the 2022 Move Ahead WA transportation bill for improvements to the six-lane roadway. However, in the 2023 session, state legislators kicked the funding down to at least 2029. Nevertheless, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is still trying to make improvements to the dangerous corridor. In June, SDOT will hold workshops for community members to help shape the design for changes in the area. 

When asked about their top priorities for improvements on Aurora, Howard and Reed both borrowed from existing proposals. Howard, a member of the Aurora Reimagined Coalition, wants SDOT to consolidate traffic to just two lanes, put a bus lane in the middle, widen sidewalks, and plant some trees. That plan relies on delayed state funds and the Move Seattle Levy, which is up for a vote in 2024, so Howard did not know how he would speed up SDOT’s work. 

Reed said she supports car-free Aurora. The first steps toward that end include decreasing lanes, throwing up a median with trees, building more sidewalks, installing crossings with flashing lights, and adding dedicated bike lanes that cover the entirety of the roadway. Aurora needs those improvements immediately, but since SDOT answers to the executive, she said her power is limited as a council member–unless she gets some outside help. Reed, a community organizer, would partner with pro-transit groups such as the Transit Riders Union to pressure the Mayor and SDOT.

Jenks, Macomber, and Moore agreed with many of the individual improvements Howard and Reed proposed. 

Moore expanded, saying that she would want to support small businesses and prioritize public safety in the area. She expressed concern for the district’s small, minority-owned businesses who could get priced out as the area becomes more dense and less hostile. She suggested the Office of Economic Development stabilize commercial rents in anticipation of upzones and tell SDOT to set aside some money to counter the loss of profits during construction. Moore is one of the more business-friendly candidates, telling the Seattle Times that she would give downtown businesses a tax break to help with pandemic recovery.

As for safety, Moore will lobby the County to build one of the five recently approved crisis care centers close enough to serve people in North Seattle, particularly along that corridor. 

Moore backs the blue more than any of the other D5 candidates. In her Seattle Times questionnaire, she was the only one to say she supports the Mayor’s goal of hiring 1,400 cops. Macomber said “maybe.” She also said the City should not reduce the police budget. 

Macomber also counted public safety among his priorities for making Aurora a more livable place. He would bolster outreach and mental health response in the area, committing to moving 30% of the public safety budget to non-cop response in his four-year term. Macomber appears to be playing to both sides when it comes to reinvesting police funds into upstream services, as he answered “maybe” to the Seattle Times questionnaire question about reducing the police budget. 

Decriminalize Sex Work? Potentially! 

Besides traffic deaths, Aurora also sees a high concentration of sex work. Operating under the so-called “Nordic” model, sex work remains illegal in Seattle, but the City tends to direct cops and prosecutors to focus on punishing “Johns,” or people who buy sex. 

Advocates say that targeting demand only makes the job more dangerous because sex workers have to cater to buyers who are avoiding arrest, pushing sex work even further into the shadows and opening up workers to more abuse.  

Reed said she would sponsor a bill to decriminalize sex work. In that bill, she would include funding for housing, harm-reduction supplies, health care access, and outreach groups such as the Green Light Project. Jenks also said she would support decriminalization and more money to support sex workers’ needs and safety. 

Macomber and Howard both agree that criminalization does not work, and they are open to conversations about possibly decriminalizing sex work. Keep an eye on Macomber, though. According to his candidate questionnaire with the Seattle Times, he’s iffy on whether or not the City should prosecute people for using drugs in public, which flies in the face of decriminalization in general. 

Moore said the City should legalize sex work so that the City can keep an eye on compliance with labor, health, and anti-trafficking rules. She said solicitation or work outside of regulated establishments should be illegal for both the worker and the buyer. 


Despite some variation on crime and taxation, the D5 candidates share many ideas–or at least that’s what they’ll tell The Stranger before they get elected. As we approach the primary, the lanes will firm up and candidates will find it increasingly difficult to claim they are the most average.

Moore will likely appeal to the more conservative voters. Her campaign already attracted money from Tim Ceis, a longtime consultant and the author of the anti-homeless initiative Compassion Seattle. She returned his donation because she worried it would count as an ethics violation since he’s on the City’s payroll, but not because she’s morally opposed to taking his money, she said.

Macomber will probably have to start telling the Times and The Stranger the same thing. 

But if Reed, who entered the race last-minute, can collect enough money to be competitive with high-fundraiser Jenks, the conversation between those two left candidates could be among the most forward-thinking in the 2023 City elections.

Reed shoots for the moon–car-free aurora, 100% affordable new development, abolition, you name it. And she plans to capitalize on her connections to community groups to pressure the council to make bold changes. 

Jenks starts her bidding lower on many issues and may use more traditional strategies to move policy through–she suggested joining a governing board to apply pressure to Sound Transit, after all.

If Reed’s tweets or Jenks's doubts about raising JumpStart don’t kill their campaigns, the decision for North Seattle’s leftmost wing might come down to tactics.

As Reed said, “It’s not like no one has had the right idea yet, it’s just that someone needs to actually implement those ideas.”