Taking A Closer Look At the Doubts Raised About Eileen Brady as a New Seasons Co-Founder

Kyle Curtis Facebook

About the challenges to the mayoral front-runner's claim to be a co-founder of New Seasons: Is there any "there" there? And does it even matter?

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 maintainedeven 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.

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    Full disclosure: I'm not affiliated with any candidate's campaign for mayor.

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    “When Eileen sold her shares in 2009, she became the fourth largest shareholder in the company."

    Am I missing something? This statement doesn't make sense to me--how would she become the fourth largest shareholder when she divested?

    Is this about someone else selling their shares?

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    I'm also confused that she would be holding ANY shares, since her husband did all the investing and specifically shielded her from responsibility.

    Two other points of semantics:

    *Isn't "I don't know" the frontrunner in this race, garnering the most responses in every poll released?

    *How does one reconcile these two statements?

    "This claim [of cofounding NS] is essential for Brady's campaign."

    "does [determining her role at NS] even matter?"

    How can it be an essential claim, and one where determining its accuracy doesn't matter?

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      since her husband did all the investing

      Got a source for that claim there, TJ? Or are you misinterpreting something (again)?

      Full disclosure: My firm built Eileen Brady's website. I speak only for myself.

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        Brian Rohter, in the WW piece written by Jaquiss some weeks ago, the same interview where he called the assertions sexist in orgin. He indicated that he protected her lack of liability by not putting her on any of the paperwork.

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          Um, no. He said he didn't put her on the OLCC paperwork. He didn't say that he "did all the investing" whatever that means.

          Once again, I wouldn't rely on Willamette Week for either the full story here or legal advice.

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      Isn't "I don't know" the front runner in this race, garnering the most responses in every poll released?

      Please, let's call a spade a spade. "I don't know" means there are a large number of Portland voters who have yet to make up their mind in support of a candidate. Of the three current leading candidates for mayor, Eileen is the front runner. And that's a fact.

      Now, if this number of undecided voters whittle down yet Eileen stays at the 25% mark she has been at since this past fall, well... different ballgame.

      It doesn't really matter to me if you don't support Eileen's candidacy for mayor. I would just find some legitimate reason to not support her. As she clearly was instrumental in helping found New Seasons, I don't think that qualifies as a legitimate reason to not support her candidacy...

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        "Please, let's call a spade a spade. "I don't know" means there are a large number of Portland voters who have yet to make up their mind in support of a candidate. Of the three current leading candidates for mayor, Eileen is the front runner. And that's a fact."

        Well, actually that's a supposition based on ignoring entirely the largest group of respondents, who have made no choice at all yet. I think it's reasonable to suggest one is running ahead when you're the choice of the plurality, but when "undecided" is pacing the field, it's an over-aggrandizement to call yourself the frontrunner IMO.

        None of which has anything to do with who I support or don't, a decision made long before the first published poll, and with several legitimate reasons. I never suggested it was a reason to not support anyone, either. I just don't believe it's an accurate statement.

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    It doesn't matter at all. Enuf!

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      I agree. It doesn't matter. This level of knitpicking by opposition tells me of their weakness and would incline me to vote for her were I a resident of Portland.

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    I agree it's important to move beyond meaningless debate on semantics. But here are a few facts for clarification:

    • Eileen is a cofounder of NSM (See Stan Amy's definitive statement on this question linked in Kyle's article)
    • The original capital that Eileen and Brian invested in helping launch the company came largely from Eileen's earnings in the high tech sector.
    • In 2009, when Eileen exercised her shares, she was the 4th largest shareholder of the company - behind her husband Brian Rohter. NOTE: the separate ownership. This fact was omitted in the WW profile.
    • Eileen is also currently a minority co-owner. She and Brian retain a 1% ownership stake that is split evenly between them.

    And as an aside, I first met Eileen, when as Executive Director of the Democratic Party, I contacted New Seasons Market (out of the blue) to send a representative to conduct a workshop on bridging the urban rural divide at the 2nd ever Oregon Summit in 2003.

    It was still a young company then but it struck me there was something to be learned politically by how they were doing things differently and were able to make such a positive impact for their employees, customers and suppliers -- all without any new regulations or mandates -- just because it was the right thing to do.

    Eileen was that representative. And her session was memorable, drawing on her experience at both New Seasons and Ecotrust in a presentation aptly entitled "Building Unusual Alliances."

    So while others are focused on semantics and the usual political cheap shots, Eileen is doing what she's always done - focusing on the issues that matter, staying true to her values, and continuing to build unusual alliances - and it's an approach that is resonating. It's a different model of leadership and her authenticity is a big part of why she is the frontrunner. We look forward to continuing the conversation about the opportunity we have before us over the coming weeks.

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    oh and full disclosure: I work for eileen's campaign and with Stan Amy at New Villages Group.

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    Summary: People who like Eileen say it doesn't matter. People who don't like Eileen say it does matter.

    Full Disclosure: I live with Mayoral candidate Max Bauske.

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    Here's a question: if Eileen was a man would we be having this discussion?

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      Possibly. But much less likely.

      A woman and a man found a business together. The man invests his life savings in the business. The woman gets the CEO title, but the man works in multiple executive roles as an investor/founder, drawing compensation through dividends rather than through payroll.

      No one would claim that the man wasn't involved in the company. It's bizarre that they're claiming it here.

      I do think the story of Gert Boyle is instructive here. When her husband died suddenly, lots of folks thought that Columbia Sportswear - a relatively small regional company then - wouldn't survive. Instead, she took the reins formally and never looked back. Now it's a global powerhouse and a local success story.

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        The point about Gert Boyle is very good, Kari. I do think there's a bit of sexism involved in this discussion.

        (and for the record, while I lean toward Brady, I've not made a definitive choice in the mayor's race yet)

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        I also like the comparison with Gert Boyle, who gave $10,000 to the "NO" on Measures 66 and 67 campaign.

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    Full Disclosure, I support Cameron Whitten for Mayor. I just thought I would say that since everybody else is. If he doesn't make it to the runoff I am trying to find who I would support. It is a tough call.

    This particular problem is a semantic debate and it is important because Willamette Week could be using their print space to talk about issues rather than go after a female about her role in business. I am ashamed for my male gender. My wife read the WWeek article and was shocked that they would go so low for a story. She said it made her more likely to support Brady. The Wilamette Week / Smith independent campaign should have probably focus grouped the decision to go that route first.

    Unfortunately Smith supporters and some in his campaign are dittoheads that act like he is their cult leader. Smith isn't responsible for all his supporters, but maybe he should come out and say this is childish. Hales and Smith are both tagged as quitters, too. Going after how devoted they were to an early passion they cite as expertise would hurt themselves, too.

    Please, focus on issues we the people of Portland care about.

    Like increasing participation, police accountability, sustainability, foreclosure issues, economic policies, homeless issues, distributing services to the entire community.

    It may surprise people who read WWeek or the Oregonian, but the candidates are talking about these issues. Even Hales. Why do those issues not makes news? When Jefferson Smith brings up the Peak Oil Task Force or Cameron brings up Nature's Trust, these are significant issues that Portland citizens must know about to he informed of how to vote.

    Blue Oregon itself has had to waste space responding to the mischaracterizations of the corporate media. I am wasting space talking about it. Maybe it is time to start focusing on differences of policy that are many.

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