In political campaigns, if you are the front-runner you are going to have a larger target on your back than those who are chasing you. As a result, you are going to receive most of the attention from the media, potential voters, and the political chattering class. And with recent poll reports showing that Eileen Brady has maintained—even expanded--her lead in Portland’s mayoral race, it shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the Willamette Week did a feature story on Brady that also raises doubts on her claim to be a co-founder of New Seasons.
This claim is essential for Brady's campaign. Although there are no poll results to confirm, it would be assumed that a majority of Portland residents would view New Seasons—which employs over 2000 in twelve stores—in a highly favorable manner. And after reading Willamette Week’s story—as well as statements from Brady’s website—a conclusive determination of Brady’s role as a co-founder for New Seasons is hardly clarified. But perhaps a larger question should be asked: does it even matter?
Undoubtedly, Brady played an integral role in the creation of New Seasons, at least financially. It was her savings, after all, which her husband Brian Rohter used to provide 11% of the initial capital funds. But wouldn’t this simply make Brady an investor? If her name does not appear on New Seasons’ articles of incorporation, would this mean her claim to be a co-founder is unfounded?
According to Stan Amy—the founder of Natures who gave Brady her first job when she was a mother of two in the 1980s—he considers Brady to be a co-founder of New Seasons. But Amy also states that New Seasons has “50 co-founders.” As the cornerstone of Brady’s argument to be mayor is that she helped co-found New Seasons, does this mean that there are 50 others who share this credential that—according to Brady—is a singular qualification to be mayor? “This is an important point,” says Neel Pender, a spokesperson for the Brady campaign. “When Eileen sold her shares in 2009, she became the fourth largest shareholder in the company. But as Amy points out, all employees were initially invested in the store’s success. The emphasis was not on the executive team, but the emphasis was on all of the workers sharing the store’s success—at Eileen’s direction when it came to human resources, developing the store's health plan, and profit-sharing for employees.”
One’s view of Brady’s status as a New Seasons co-founder boils down to semantic interpretation. And regardless of one’s conclusion, steps should be taken to not carelessly disparage the efforts she put towards the creation of the New Seasons grocery chain. Certainly, if I had put a considerate amount of money towards the start-up of a successful business, I would not that role to be diminished. And Brady played multiple organizational hats as New Seasons established itself; including human resources, designing New Seasons first health insurance plan, and assisted with the development of marketing materials.
There have been some bloggers and commentors who have said that if Brady’s role at New Seasons is overstated, then she lacks the policy experience necessary to be mayor. In fact, Brady’s experience at Ecotrust demonstrates she has more policy chops than if she had spent the past decade as New Season’s CEO. (Even if Spencer Beebe suggested only in passing that Brady could “run this place” as Ecotrust’s executive director, that should not to be taken lightly.) “Look at the work she did at Ecotrust,” says Pender, "Helping build a plan for the state of California’s regional food economy. Also, there is no more important issue for controlling costs of both government and small businesses than the issue of health care. A lot of people talk about it, but Eileen served on the Oregon Health Board, bringing stakeholders together to create a comprise that extended health care to 90,000 kids.”
This does not mean that glaring gaps exist in Brady’s background and resume that might give undecided voters pause as the spring primary approaches. As the Willamette Week points out, Brady has never been elected into public office and has never needed to hold accountability to voters. Of course, neither did Bud Clark, who had a paucity of public experience before being elected and serving two terms as Portland’s mayor. However, as the owner of the Goose Hollow Inn, Clark needed to make payroll and stick to a budget—something that the Willamette Week claims that Brady has yet to do. “We’re just going to have to disagree with Willamette Week on their interpretation of the facts,” says Pender. “Despite all evidence to the contrary, they have drawn their own conclusion."
Despite these short comings, there are impressive aspects to Brady’s story that are revealed in the Willamette Week profile. Brady’s story is a quintessentially American success story, one that goes from working at a $5-an-hour cash register job to purchasing a million dollar beach house in the span of a quarter-century. Whether her involvement with the beginnings of New Seasons meets a subjective qualification of being one of the store’s co-founders, it cannot be denied that she provides particular strengths as a mayoral candidate. Indeed, Brady is one of three highly qualified leading candidates for mayor, an embarrassment of riches that Portland voters should be extremely proud of.
Update 9:01 am: Made correction that Eileen was fourth largest shareholder of New Seasons when she sold her shares in 2009, as opposed to when the store was founded. Also added the organizational aspects that Eileen provided direction in at New Seasons' beginnings.