[Editor’s Update-10/24/19...With the current news that Amazon donated a million dollars to the PAC created by the Seattle Business Chamber, this impacts several campaigns, We reached out to Orion with an update.
“I think the extra donation from Amazon was unfortunate and really distracts from the issues my campaign has been talking to District 3 voters about. That combined with union PAC spending has an outsized role in these local races. I’ve been in every precinct of District 3 talking personally to D3 voters. In their day to day lives, they don’t care about corporate spending in our election. They care about the homelessness crisis, affordability, transportation, and the climate crisis. They’re looking for a more collaborative approach to leading at the city council, an approach I bring in spades. Amazon can’t buy the election. Union PACs can’t buy it. Special interests, too. They can’t buy your vote because only you own that on by November 5, District 3 voters will tell us who they prefer to lead them and represent their voices at city hall. My first priority will always be the residents of the District. That’s the only special interest that matters. We thank our massive local support (over 90% from Seattle, combined to barely half for Sawant, and over 60% of donations coming from District 3, as opposed to 25% for Sawant). I’m the only candidate in this race participating in the democracy voucher system, which limits the number of donations and which can only be gotten from Seattle residents. This is a local race and can only be decided locally, by voters. I want to return representation to District 3 so that all our neighborhoods have their voice represented at City Hall. Please vote by November 5!”
by David Luc Nguyen
From a glance at Egan Orion’s social media, one might think that he’s a glutton for punishment. He’s currently the executive director of Seattle PrideFest and head of the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, while also rebuilding his Central District home and running for Seattle City Council. And recently he announced that he’s expecting to be a first-time father (through surrogacy)!
Orion is a busy guy—but luckily not too busy to chat with Unite Seattle Magazine about what keeps the LGBTQ community leader engaged with his passion projects.
David Luc Nguyen: Why take on so much at once?
Egan Orion: I say “go big or go home.” If politics were meant for sane people, we wouldn’t have Trump as president, would we? Seriously, though, this is probably the busiest I’ll be ever again.
I had another year like this in 2011. I remember flying back from New York, where I was producing a flash mob in Times Square, coming back for our largest flash mob ever here in Seattle (with 1,500 participants), moving on to PrideFest (which was getting pretty big at that point), and a few weeks after that, attending a three- day acoustic music festival called GreenNote.
The way I work, you have years during which you rest, and others that are designed for nonstop work. This is a busy year, to be sure, and even if I don’t see the logic behind any one choice, there’s usually a moment down the road—after the madness—when I see the benefit those choices. But for now, there’s no time for perspective. I’m keeping my head down in work and a smile on my face when doorbelling and trying to keep a good perspective about it all. I try not to make ideal the enemy of the good. I try to treat people kindly, tip well, listen carefully, and learn people’s names. At the end of the day, these little kindnesses are what we’ll remember, and the work will become just background noise in the end.
DLN: With such a rigorous schedule, what keeps you grounded and helps you unwind?
EO: A relaxing weekend would involve a long walk with my dog, a long reading and writing session at one of my favorite Cafés, and curling up for a movie at night. As for hobbies, I’m a novelist, filmmaker, graphic designer, dog lover, and hiker. But I just call those things part of my life.
I sort of feel like people have hobbies because it’s something “fun” to do that’s not “work,” but I truly enjoy all the work I do, so hobbies and work blur together for me. It’s all about having a full life, building community, stimulating your mind, and moving…always moving.
DLN: Over the past decade, Pride festivities across the country have become very commercialized and more mainstream. Some people have said that they are now just marketing opportunities or an excuse to party hard or get wasted. What does Pride mean to you personally?
EO: I see it as a chance to come together as one multidimensional community, to learn our history, acknowledge where we’re at right now, and fight for a better future.
DLN: Pride Sunday is a big culmination of your, your staff’s, and the community’s combined efforts. Even though it’s a busy workday for you, do you have any traditions you enjoy that day?
EO: Honestly, I have little time for anything else other than PrideFest. But every year, my parents come to visit me at the festival, and I spend some time with them. Also, the last couple of years, I’ve been dating a guy, and he and I escape from the craziness late afternoon, grab a bite, and a smooch. After all the craziness of the festival planning and execution, these two things embody the very essence of Pride for me: love and togetherness.
DLN: Let’s shift to your recently announced candidacy for Seattle City Council. Do you recall a specific moment or a significant event that made you want to lead and serve?
EO: I’ve always been willing to step up in the absence of other leadership. Probably no example is more suitable than in 2007, when the group that previously produced the Pride Festival got kicked out of the Seattle Center for unpaid bills. My event company and I stepped in six weeks before that festival.
I’d never produced a festival before, but I thought it was important that such a big LGBTQ community not have a parade that ended nowhere. I took a second mortgage out on my house to enable all that, with no guarantees. Sometimes you have to put it all on the line if it’s important enough. We eventually transitioned the festival management to a nonprofit (PrideFest), but those early days were definitely a catalyst for a big change in my life and career.
DLN: Looking at your career and accomplishments, it’s not hard to see that you are qualified to run for Seattle City Council. To be frank, so are the other candidates. What sets you apart from them?
EO: I stand apart from other candidates in that I have a long history of leadership and results. I’ve worked across multiple neighborhoods and organizations to get things done. I’ll work with business, nonprofits, and individuals to achieve big things.
DLN: You’ve expressed frustration with the incumbent, Kshama Sawant. If elected, what will you do differently right out the gate?
EO: I’ll meet with residents of District 3 to see what their priorities are and work directly with the rest of the council to create a plan and put that plan into motion. Kshama has lots of ideas and a few, very dedicated followers. But ideas only mean something if you can get a coalition on board with those ideas and create a plan you can pass at council, and have that law be something that can meaningfully impact the lives of all Seattleites. I think Kshama is long on ideas (some good, some not so great) and short on listening, coalition building, and results. I’ve shown throughout my career that I can take on big goals and create a coalition to get it done.
DLN: During your time at the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the Broadway Business Improvement Area (BIA), what would you say was your most significant contribution?
EO: Last year, right when I started at the Broadway BIA, we lost our homeless outreach workers. Over the next six months, I built a new coalition of organizations across three neighborhoods and worked with the mayor’s office and City Council to push through a plan for funding a renewed effort, to connect our unsheltered neighbors with the services they need. Those workers are ramping up right now and will get to work in the next few weeks.
DLN: As you’re aware, Seattle City Council District 3 is a pretty expansive district that many neighborhoods, not just Capitol Hill, Broadway, the Pike/Pine Corridor, and 15th Avenue but also First Hill, Judkins Park, Madrona, Madison Park, parts of the International District/Little Saigon, South Lake Union, and Mount Baker. Some critics of your campaign worry that you’ll be too focused on serving Capitol Hill interests.
EO: I’m not just a Capitol Hill person. I live in the Central District and know that community well. I eat lunch in Madison Valley. I meet friends for breakfast in Madrona. I play with my dog in Judkins Park. My mom grew up in the Mount Baker neighborhood. If you were tracking my iPhone (don’t! haha), you’d see that nearly every day is this giant tour of District 3.
I’m particularly tied to the Central District. I know the business owners here. I know these streets better than any other place in Seattle. I live in a very diverse area, and despite the affordability crisis in the city, my neighborhood has largely maintained its diversity—and that’s something I want to fight to preserve.
DLN: If elected, what do you envision for your constituents outside of Capitol Hill proper? Are there any initiatives or projects you’ve been working on or would like to work on for your district or the city?
EO: Central to my campaign is the imperative to provide 24/7, low-barrier shelter and treatment-on- demand for mental health and addiction to all who need it. And while we fill the pipeline with more affordable housing, we have to get creative. For example, bringing empty apartments and hotel rooms back up to code by incentivizing property owners, so they can be used by people who need a place to live today. Or using our expanded partnership with the county to bond a thousand new supportive housing units and vow to bring them online within the next three years. We are letting our UN-sheltered neighbors languish in tents and in doorways in our city, one of the most well-resourced places on earth. We can and must bring business, government, and citizens together to remedy this human crisis that the City Council has done little to solve.
DLN: On a lighter note: I read on your Facebook profile “must not read comments.” I’m guessing that you did. Any comments you’d like to address or find amusing?
EO: On the KING5 video [his official announcement of his candidacy], which gets viewers from around the state, there were comments about me being just another radical Seattle socialist. I thought it was funny, because I’m a Democrat not a socialist, for the record.
Also, I found the comments on The Stranger’s article hilarious. Someone commented on the number of shirts I was wearing for my photo shoot, and then other people started chiming in on my shirts. I just announced for City Council and they’re comments on my shirts?
Though this writer personally doesn’t find Orion’s fashion sense appealing—since he chose to wear a green and gray, horizontal-striped sweater with a plaid undershirt for his candidate photo—one thing is clear: his choice of attire reflects who he is. Busy. Very busy. He’s got a lot going on, but somehow he makes it all work.
To take the fashion analogy one step further: he’s a guy who wears many hats: leader, Pridefest producer, business executive, homeless advocate, community organizer, soon-to to-be father, and would-be council member. This I know for sure: we are going to need someone who can also successfully juggle the multiple important issues affecting our city.
David Luc Nguyen is a Northwest native. He’s a community advocate, a producer for CBS News, and a journalist for various publications, including The Advocate and several local LGBTQ publications.