"…We can be a lifestyle city, but we have to have an economic engine. Progressives need to embrace it, to take that up as their cause." — Eileen Brady
In electoral politics, nothing is more exhilarating to the business community than a former executive who is looking for a run for office -- particularly if that candidate is a woman. The problem is that general elections have largely been unkind to these candidates -- Carly Fiorina and Meg Whitman a couple of notable, recent examples. Though I have yet to see research data on their campaigns, it is likely their business success helped them in some circles and doomed them in others. Those who may support the idea of more women in executive positions may not have liked the policy proposals of these particular women. And both of these women were running as Republicans and faltered in the general election when faced with Democratic and independent voters.
This spring, Portland got its own version of the exciting private sector executive throwing her hat into the ring of electoral politics. "Real world experience." "Knows what it takes to run a company." "Results." These are the things you typically hear from a political candidate who hails from the business community. The last thing you expect to hear out of that candidate's mouth is: "Progressive Values". Keep Portland Weird, right? (Which much to the chagrin of the uninformed didn't actually start as an ode to clowns on unicycles on stilts -- rather an ode to supporting Portland's small business community.)
And that leads us to this great mysterious candidate, to some a veritable unicorn in progressive politics -- bonafide business chops and a progressive rap sheet that would make an OSPIRG volunteer blush -- Eileen Brady.
I got the chance to sit down with Eileen a few weeks ago and she told me she was spending the summer listening to Portlanders. So, in return, I give you the opportunity to hear from her.
Q: What defines Portland to you?
A: Here's what I love about Portland: It's a network of neighborhoods. It really does have a real vision about creating a livable place that's also family-friendly, really dynamic, creative, entrepreneurial, and committed to an environmental ethic that defines the city. It's a great place to be an innovative thinker and doer….…In Portland, you are allowed to stand up, have a new idea and, however crazy it sounds, it will still be considered - and there's value to that.
Q: How can Portland be at once a land of wonder and livability and still be a place of great need, and what can be done to close that gap?
A: I am a data-driven person. Have you ever heard one of Intel's mantras? "If it matters, measure it." I believe in that. And when I look at the economic data from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco on per capita personal income, it really gives you an insight into what the fundamentals underlying the vibrancy of each city are. Even normalized for the recession, the trend is up for Seattle and San Francisco, and that’s not the case for Portland. Here you see that not only are people having a difficult time finding a good paying job, but because of that you also see a school system that is struggling because it can't be funded adequately, and great non-profits with fantastic visions who are desperate for funding. The need is greater because our incomes are down, and then the services to address those needs are not as resourced as we need them to be because people aren’t in a position to help. And so you get into a downward spiral. The key for me is that I really think Portland is at risk of losing its momentum, its edge and ultimately our talent. The big proposition for me (as Mayor) is addressing that.
Q: So what does that look like?
A: First of all, I will say that I am spending the summer listening to a lot of people's ideas including, for example, the Round Table on the Black Family that I [attended in June]. Once you begin to listen, you start to hear similar themes. For instance, [they] would say, "Hey Portland, if you are going to recruit businesses to Portland, let's think about matching our workforce’s needs and job skills to our recruitment strategy.” We [also] have a fragmented set of small business support programs. Where is the goal to develop homegrown entrepreneurs? I believe in the people that we have here. Most of our effort should be spent home growing entrepreneurs, home growing small businesses or non-profits or hybrid organizations. We should grow our smaller companies into larger operations that can then develop the jobs and ideas that then develop a whole economy. You can build all the green buildings in the world, you can build all the transit systems in the world, but unless you nurture the innovative talents in those buildings, you don't have a vibrant city. To do that, Portland needs to have more tools in its tool chest. Part of the key to doing this is that is we as a community, not just at City Hall, but the whole city has to be able to say that we can have both a progressive set of values, a real true Portland ethic - and a vibrant economy. Right now, there's a conversation that says you can have one or the other but you can't have both. We need to be able to bust through that….
Q: If you are elected, you will be only the 8th woman on City Council, how can more women at City Hall actually improve outcomes for women in Portland?
A: I am going to generalize a bit here. Women bring an orientation to collaboration and problem-solving. Women are good at having influence without authority. When you really have to bring together a lot of stakeholders and understand what the shared interests are, women are good at understanding that the real power in the room is the people in the room. Can you convene the people in the room and move a conversation from idea to action when you've got so many different interests in the room -- it's a tricky proposition, but women often have those skills. I’ve also always been a real advocate of having a balanced work environment, so you have the opportunity to get more people involved and the diversity of what they bring.
Q: One of the questions out there about your campaign is the lack of a political organization, the whole “not of the ranks" question. So how does your background qualify you to be Portland's Mayor?
A: Number one, being an outsider who has real life experience as an executive in business and non-profits and on boards of for-profits and non-profits is an advantage – it gives you a lot of real world experience that you can bring to the job. So when you say, "you haven't paid your dues," I kind of want to say actually I have been building a resume that proves you can live your values and have real impact in the community at the same time.
Number two, I can do the job. To me it requires a certain set of leadership skills that have to do with creating a vision, prioritizing, sticking to the priorities, budgeting and measuring your impact. That’s what you do in the business world, and it's what I have been doing my entire life. I've got a background in both for-profits and non-profits of bringing unusual stakeholders together for the common good or for a positive action. Look at what I did in healthcare. (Brady has served both on the Oregon Health Fund Board and the Oregon Health Policy Board, appointed by Governor Kulongoski.) You have to have the ability to take a diverse group of stakeholders that don’t necessarily have common interests, bring them together, keep the group focused on a common vision and then hammer out the new solution, the new alternative. That’s a key to being a great leader, and we helped get another 85,000 Oregon kids healthcare doing just that.
Another example would be working with communities to bring together farmers, fishers, ranchers and consumers (Brady refers to New Seasons Market's partnership with local ranchers, farmers and fishers.). What's interesting about that group is that they are not traditionally politically aligned. Some of the stalwart conservative Republican ranchers in the state learned to partner with left-leaning Democrats who think that going to yoga is the same as going to church [a joke they share]. Finding what it is that unites us is the big challenge and the big reward. At some level it's hard for me to see blue and red when we talk about these kinds of issues, because here's a group of theoretically divergent folks who value health, delivering healthy foods, growing them in an environmentally sound way, creating livelihoods and strengthening the regional economy.
...To answer your question - Am I a career politician? No. Do I think that’s an advantage? Yes. Do I think everyone on City Council should be a career politician? No. In the grand Oregon tradition of citizens stepping up to public service…there is value in having citizens having background outside of City Hall on that Council, particularly in leadership positions.
Q: Will Portland have baseball again?
A: Wouldn't that be nice. I think there's been some missed opportunities -- that would be one of them. [As with most baseball fans, the conversation diverged for a few minutes about baseball teams, beautiful stadiums like Wrigley Field, etc. before coming back to Brady's run.]
Q: People love to say Portland's not business-friendly. Is it?
A: I am really fascinated with the question, because I am sitting in these policy or business meetings and sometimes it seems that the solution is always "we need to streamline the permitting process for businesses." I think the answer is more complicated. We need to be able to talk not just about streamlining the permitting process, but also how Portland becomes more welcoming of innovative, private and public and non-profit innovative efforts. If you look at it from a more economic perspective, what are we [progressives] all excited about? Community gardens, cycling, recycling. But that just can't exist by itself. …We can be a lifestyle city, but we have to have an economic engine. Progressives need to embrace it, to take that up as their cause. Our folks need to say, "Economic engine! That's our big revolution right now." And take it up and do it the way we want to do it.
Q: A word for Portland, a word for Eileen.
A: I am going to go with innovative [for Portland]. Passionate, if I have to pick one, that's what people would say about me.