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Aberdeen's Gay mayor-elect on campaign challenges and the road ahead

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Douglas Orr — Photo by Matt Cyphert
Douglas Orr — Photo by Matt Cyphert

Following a narrow victory involving two hand recounts, Aberdeen's mayor-elect Douglas Orr is preparing for his swearing-in on December 20. Orr won by four votes, out of 2,751 cast, a margin of 0.15%.

Orr is the first openly Gay man to be elected mayor in Aberdeen's history, a notable distinction in the red-leaning town. His election did not come without friction or controversy, and his term faces a number of serious issues.

An Aberdeen native and lifelong artist, Orr spoke with the SGN about the challenges of his campaign, his passion for art as a driver of community, and his hopes for the road ahead.

Ups and downs of the campaign
Orr did not win his seat without a great deal of opposition. "The biggest downside is that a bunch of strange, weird people came out of the woodwork to hate me who don't even know me, and I was just shocked at how intent they were on trying to ruin my life, just so I wouldn't be the next mayor," Orr said.

Describing them as an anarchist group, Orr told the SGN that their accusations included charges of sexual assault and "grooming" people. Denying these accusations, he spoke of it being "very strange" that these people would seek to ruin his personal life.

Nonetheless, neither Orr nor his opponent spoke ill of each other on the campaign trail. "I was really careful not to say anything negative at all about my opponent. I know she's on the far right and has the support of a lot of people who hate me, but she never actually said anything poorly about me... but she's a nice lady, I think, and probably would have been okay at mayor," he said.

"But I think I would be the better leader."

Leading through consensus building
Orr's positions may strike many as moderate. While officially nonpartisan, the primary election featured a third candidate whose views aligned well with the Democratic platform, but following her loss, the votes did not all go to Orr.

"I only won by four votes, so I understand that there wasn't this massive huge majority of people that I thought I was gonna have," he said. "I think that the smear campaign that they were doing on me might have probably affected a lot of the votes I would have gotten."

"I think it just makes me a little more humble," he added. "It makes me understand that everybody out there doesn't want the same thing that I want, necessarily."

Douglas Orr (l) with partner of 30 years David Rodriguez and their six-year-old border collie/lab mix Nima — Photo by Matt Cyphert  

Art and higher education as vehicles for revitalization
Orr is the founding director of the Aberdeen Art Center, having organized the First Fridays Art Walk.

"I'm all about using art as a catalyst for economic change and economic revival," Orr said.

His vision for revitalization heavily features the local college, Grays Harbor College. "I want to revitalize downtown, but I want... to make it more of a college town, so that it has the lower-end services for college students, as opposed to putting in Hyatt Regency hotels or something."

Further, he says moving the main highway one street over, away from the center of downtown, would create a quieter core. He sees this as a move that would help address the town's homelessness situation, which is concentrated around the city center and hampers development.

Drawing on personal experience
Aberdeen faces a homelessness crisis that overwhelms much of the population, and Orr holds a unique distinction among elected officials in that he himself has experienced homelessness.

"I don't know if we've ever had a president who was homeless, or who was on welfare," he wondered.

He makes clear that his policies surrounding homelessness seek to be compassionate and humane while aiming to curb lawlessness. While property crime is a major issue, he draws a distinction between vandalism and theft with violence.

"Just because they're homeless doesn't mean they're violent and aggressive," he said. "People who aren't homeless don't understand what it's like to be homeless. I've been homeless, so I kinda have an idea of how it was for me, but the one thing I can say is that every homeless person out there has a different story and that it's going to take a different solution."

In the end, Orr's vision for Aberdeen arises from a deep love of his community. Taking pride in its history, including as the hometown of Kurt Cobain and the site of great natural beauty, Orr is right at home in the city he prepares to lead.

"Even if I won millions of dollars, I'd stay right here," he said. "I'd put so much money into my community, just to prove all the naysayers wrong."