Mayor 2012: Eileen Brady envisions Portland as a "haven for entrepreneurs"

Kyle Curtis Facebook

" huge fear is that we have a city filled with state-of-the-art green buildings and streetcars that sit empty because the jobs are not grown to fill them. We have incredible planning in this town, and it shouldn’t only be just to export to the rest of the world. Sustainability alone is not enough for people to live."

Mayor 2012: Eileen Brady envisions Portland as a "haven for entrepreneurs"

You gotta admit, Brady's name easily lends itself to a pretty clever campaign button! / **Photo credit: Michael Riley**

At first glance, Eileen Brady does not come across as your typical candidate for mayor. Hardly a lifetime pol, Brady instead has private sector experience as a co-founder of the New Seasons chain of grocery stores as well as non-profit organization experience as a former executive for Ecotrust, a non-profit organization devoted to finding collaborative efforts to protect and strengthen the Northwest's environment. Despite never holding publicly-elected office- and being a relative novice to running a political campaign- her announcement as a mayoral candidate this past spring has been met with much public enthusiasm along with an up swell of grassroots support. Currently supported by nearly 800 donors- with over half having contributed fewer than $100- Eileen Brady is poised to surpass the record number of 1300 donors set by former Mayor Tom Potter in the 2004 campaign. Is this grassroots support an indicator that Brady is poised to take the mayoral seat come January 2013 as well?

In a recent phone interview, Brady discussed her vision of Portland’s future and how it dovetails with the agenda she lays forth in her mayoral campaign.

To begin with, I’d like to discuss Portland’s current and future identity. In my opinion, it seems like Portland lacks a “brand” or an economic sector that is easily identifiable with the city, unlike other cities such as Pittsburgh and the steel industry or that Detroit has with Motown and the auto industry. Yet projections of the area’s population suggest that we will have a metropolitan area the size of Dallas by 2060. What will the influx of new arrivals to Portland going to do in the future? Do you have an idea of what economic sector of Portland will be able to support a city of that size, and how we are going to accomplish a thriving economy for a city of that size?

Iconically, Portland is built on small businesses. Ninety-five percent of businesses or organizations in Portland have 50 or fewer employees, and eighty percent have ten or fewer employees. We are a town known for its small businesses and non-profits. I want Portland to be known as the “best place to start a small business.” We need to be a haven for entrepreneurs. While this may not be a specific industry, but that is my vision for Portland’s future.

And how is this vision accomplished?

Luckily, we all ready have the culture to ensure that Portland’s future is built on small businesses and organizations. Portland has an incredible ethic of innovation and creativity, as well as pure survival instincts. But we need to make it easier and simpler for small businesses to open and expand. This can be accomplished by accelerating the permitting process, as well as targeted system development charges reductions.

So you are saying that Portland’s permitting process creates barriers that allow businesses to thrive?

Well, the answer to that depends on how wonky you want me to get. The number one thing we need to do is consolidate the permitting process. We need to put the process into one single bureau as opposed to the multiple bureaus that it is currently. The permitting process needs to be service-oriented, the culture needs to be along the lines of “How can the city help businesses get started and thrive?” We don’t need to change any land use laws, it’s just a mindset that needs to be changed. The organizations I’ve worked with throughout my career have been service organizations that have all been geared towards serving the customer. In this case, businesses are the customer and the city needs to figure out how they can best help the customer.

I’m sure you are familiar with the Portlandia television show, which had the line that the city is where “young people go to retire.” It has been repeated so often enough, it’s almost a cliché at this point. At the same time, there is an element of truth to it. Despite this negative connotation, there are plenty of young creative people who come and help provide to the “Keep Portland Weird” ethos. But then become stifled as they are unable to move past jobs as tending bar or scooping gelato. What steps need to be taken so that Portland is no longer where the place where young people come to retire?

We do currently have a brain drain occurring in Portland- it’s a city where young people “pass through” on their way to establishing careers and livelihoods is other cities. There are simply too many young creative people who love living in Portland yet it is a tough town to figure out how to stay and make a living. Opportunities need to be present so that young, creative are able to pay their mortgage, car insurance, health insurance. Portland is a great place to live, but its very tough to find a job. And all of us need to pay attention to that. Portland needs to be a city where it is an extraordinarily place to live, work as well as play.

How do you explain this dichotomy regarding Portland’s reputation for livability yet it is very difficult to make a living? How did this tension come about, and what can be done about it?

We have a myth in Portland that you can’t have a progressive city and also have a thriving economy. We need to kill that myth- and the only way we can do that is by growing jobs. Look at other similar progressive cities: Seattle, Minneapolis, San Francisco. All of these cities are “lifestyle” cities that are just as liberal and progressive as Portland is, yet they also have employment opportunities and the ability to make a living. We need to concentrate on growing communities, and the only way to do it is by getting a strong economic development team in place to address these challenges.

Why hasn’t past economic development teams in prior administrations addressed this livability versus the ability to make a living dichotomy?

Again, it’s due to that myth, that mindset that we can’t be both progressive as well as having a thriving economy. This mindset hasn’t made it easy to grow jobs. We haven’t built the infrastructure necessary to develop jobs. There are two pieces of the puzzle that is missing. First is the accelerated permitting process. And we need a catalyst team of folks committed to improving the economic development in the city. We need to work hand-in-hand with the city’s large employers such as OHSU to help develop. They want to grow, they have plans on the books. The city can help make the economic development plans for these employers become a reality.

Some years back I brought a group of international visitors to Portland and they met with Mayor-elect Sam Adams who described his goal to make Portland the “most sustainable city in the world.” As we are able to reflect, Portland has certainly been able to assert itself is a leader in terms of sustainability. But that has also resulted in other cities placing Portland squarely in its sites, as Chicago, San Francisco, and Vancouver are competing to become either the “greenest” or the first “zero-carbon” city. Do you feel that Portland has been able to keep its leadership role in regards to sustainability, or that it has slipped at all?

Number one, Portland was and still is a pioneer when it comes to sustainability. And we continue to innovate and find sustainable solutions to problems we face. I am on the board of the Portland Sustainable Institute, where I serve as an adviser. The Institute is currently involved in an effort to set up ecodistricts pilot projects, which includes an effort to figure how to provide district-level energy. There are plenty of other examples like that. But my huge fear is that we have a city filled with state-of-the-art green buildings and streetcars that sit empty because the jobs are not grown to fill them. We have incredible planning in this town, and it shouldn’t only be just to export to the rest of the world. Sustainability alone is not enough for people to live. We need homegrown businesses that maintain the values we treasure here in Portland. We need to commit to growing these businesses. Just like how a healthy ecosystem has a diversity of life, a healthy economic system has a diversity of businesses.

Now I’d like to ask a few questions about you and the campaign. How is the campaign going, by the way?

The campaign is going extraordinarily. There has been a lot of momentum. We are receiving wonderful endorsements- Avel Gordly came out recently and endorsed us, Bill Bradbury a few weeks back, Bev Stein, Jules Koppel-Bailey. There was even a school board member out in David Douglas who stood up after I finished a presentation and declared his endorsement right there.

Do you feel like your campaign has perhaps defied expectations?

I’ll tell you what, our campaign director has described this current campaign as “intense, like the March before the May primary.” There is just so much interest in this campaign. We are having house meeting after house meeting after house party. I am meeting just so many folks. We currently have 786 donors- which is a lot this early in the campaign. And 498 of these donors have contributed fewer than $100. This shows the breadth of the grass roots support we have received. So it’s going really well. I am looking forward to further meetings and debates with the other candidates.

If that’s how it feels right now, I wonder what the actual March before the May primary is going to feel like.

I don’t know- what are you going to write about then?

Who knows. Political observers heads might pop or something. I want to know what prompted you to decide to run for mayor. Why did you decide to throw your hat in the ring? Everybody who runs for office looks in the mirror and says “I can do this. I can be mayor.” How did you conclude you should run for office?

Well, for one thing- I didn’t look in the mirror! A key piece that explains my desire to run for office is that I’m worried about Portland. Portland has been very good for me, and I’m worried that it won’t be as good for others. I’m worried that Portland is losing its edge, that its losing its talent. I’ll tell you a story that might help explain my desire to run for mayor. My daughter and her girlfriend went off to college, and they had a hard time. So they moved back home. Every mother’s dream, right? But they wanted to move back, and they just can’t find any jobs. In the end, they were able to find low-paying temp jobs. This was a wake-up call for me. And in the mean time I keep reading in the paper about these pet projects, these iconic projects being funded and built by the city. And I just felt that we needed to have a few key priorities that have been overlooked. And that’s what wakes me up every morning.

A lot of people who are not close political observers may not be aware that you considered a Senate campaign in 2008 for Gordon Smith’s seat. What was the thinking behind that, and how did you ultimately conclude not to run for Senate?

Well, Jeff Merkley got into the race. I never announced any intentions publicly, but I wanted to make sure there was a good candidate. And once Jeff came into the race, there was a great candidate running for that seat. But I did, I took a look. This was at a time when Peter DeFazio said no, Earl said no. And I was knocking on doors, trying to find a good candidate. And it seemed like an opportunity, people kept asking me, “Why don’t you run?” But the reality is, I have always been more locally-focused throughout my professional life. I have been committed to building local communities, local food systems, local economies, local neighborhoods. And that’s why I’m running for mayor.

Your campaign is running on the agenda of offering a “fresh start.” Let’s say the election’s next week and you’re voted mayor. Once you move into the Mayor’s office, what would this fresh start look like? What about the current administration would you change immediately, and conversely what aspects would you keep?

The current livability agenda being pursued by the city is extraordinary. The talent drawn and involved on that agenda has resulted in incredible results. We have seen spectacular neighborhood and main street programs due to these efforts. And this has resulted in a great foundation for a livable city. But I will tell you the three things that I will focus on as I engage in a fresh start with Portland: jobs and the economy; transforming public safety; and bringing the folks who live east of 82nd Avenue a legitimate seat at the table.

You are running on your background at New Seasons and at Ecotrust. How do you feel it is applicable to serving as Mayor?

I come from an organization development background- how to make organizations run, hire the right people, build productive organizational culture, and how to make organizations work. In the mid-1990s, I started work at the old Nature’s stores where I worked at five dollars an hour. I worked my way up to Human Resources director where I sat on the executive team. This is where I learned about profit/loss statements and balance sheets- but also where I learned how to build thriving progressive work places. Also, a lot of people may not know this, but also during the 90s I worked in software development- just like a lot of other people at the time. I was a director and executive producer for a company called Graphic Media- this was a time when the term “multimedia” was something new. The company changed hands multiple times, but my team stayed intact during the many changeovers. And then in 1999, my family along with 50 former Natures employees founded New Seasons Markets, and now we are set to open our twelfth store and with currently 2000 employees. I served several years as a Vice President at Ecotrust, and during that time I also served on a number of boards and commissions. Dan Saltzman appointed me to serve on the Mount Tabor Independent Review panel which considered the option to cover the reservoirs back in 2004. This was my first introduction to the city bureaus and the bureau process. In 2007 I was appointed to the Oregon Health Foundation board where I served as vice-chair. And then I was invited to serve on the Oregon Healthy Policy Board which is the policy-making and oversight board for the Oregon Health Authority.

Now, I have to ask about the run-in with the bike cop in Waterfront Park during the Rose Festival some years back. I’m not too interested in the “he said she said” aspect of the story. But what I’m curious about is whether this interaction with a member of the Portland Police Department might in any way lead to tension or problems with your ability to provide oversight to the Police Bureau, which is the most important duty for Portland’s mayor. Do you feel that there would be no cause for concern that this incident would lead to any friction with the Police Bureau, and if not, why not?

Well, it’s a minor incident that happened a long time ago. And I think both of us were just having a bad day. I don’t know if you’ve had a chance to read the letter I wrote to the chief of staff, but I explained a lot in that letter. But I’ve otherwise had mostly pretty positive interactions with the Portland police. My daughter got hit head-on by a drunk driver last year, and the police were tremendously helpful. I have a family member that is a police officer. And I believe that public safety is fundamental to providing a fresh start to the city of Portland. It is absolutely necessary for the Mayor to take a strong role regarding the police department, and I don’t feel that this incident in any way would interfere with my duties in that role.

Any final words you’d like to offer?

Only that I am looking forward to working with the city of Portland.

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    To follow along with the campaign, be sure to "like" EIleen on Facebook:

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    Thanks Kyle for this great interview. You've been doing a great job of giving the candidates an opportunity to get into the nitty gritty details of making Portland work. For those who haven't had a chance, check out Kyle's interview of Charlie Hales:

    These two posts give a great comparison of seasoned and newly seasoned.

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    Well. The blood-chilling references to Pittsburgh's deceased steel industry and Detroit's comatose Motown and auto identification, it's an effective interview. It also pretty much convinced me that I'm not going to be voting for Ms. Brady.

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      Because you disagree, and believe that Portland should not have an economic brand?!? You've have to get in a walk-in freezer to have the good point she made chill your blood, because I think anyone who understands municipal economic development would agree that having a unique economic identity is a huge plus.

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        why do you say we need a brand as a city? I cannot think of a single city where the brand is really helpful. LA is Hollywood, even though that is a very small part of the economy. Seattle is Boeing and Microsoft, but what about Amazon and Starbucks. So what is their brand. Silicon Valley works because it means you can start any business, but they are the exception.

        Where the brands were born a century ago like Pittsburgh and Detroit they have become albatrosses for new development.

        We have a cultural brand; young, hip, creative and I think Eileen is in the right direction by saying we should be a great place to start businesses. It is just really hard to create that via government action.

        By the way it was not Eileen, but Kyle that insisted we should have an economic brand.

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      Unless I am mistaken, it was the author who mentioned Detroit and Pittsburgh. Ms. Brady never did.

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    Funny, I used the Detroit-auto & Pittsburgh-steel analogies in my interviews with both Hales and Smith and it didn't become a point of contention until this interview with Brady. Huh. Interesting.

    @John: City Branding: How Cities Compete in the 21st Century

    As for the "young, hip, creative" cultural brand of Portland, why don't you go down to Occupy Portland and find out how that's working out for them. Or, if you prefer, check out my podcast in which I speak with a handful of Occupiers about why they're there:

    Lost Generation Podcast: The Un and Underemployed of Occupy Portland

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      Referencing a branding consulting company trying to sell their services is not a convincing source.

      As for the young unemployed in Portland, keep in mind that the unemployment rate in Multnomah County is below the national average. We have a national problem, not a Portland problem.

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        Yes, but John you ignore the fact that the branding consulting company linked to above are providing services that are in demand as well as responding to research and information provided by such folks as Richard Florida and Joe Cortright. For example, look at the first sentence in the link above to the full title of Cortight's Young and Restless study on Portland. It may not have been appropriate to look at industries of the past to discuss industries of the future, but I'm pretty sure all Portland voters are curious as to the direction that prospective mayoral candidates would be leading this city.

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    I noticed that too.. Maybe she didn't even consider what she was saying, which isn't exactly much better.

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    I received the following note from Eileen Brady. She asked me to post it here.

    I called Steve yesterday and told him that when I talked to Kyle about finding a “good” candidate for the US Senate race, I was describing my perspective in 2008. I didn’t know Steve then and have a much different opinion of him now. 

    Steve is an extraordinary thinker, clearly committed to the common good and obviously a formidable candidate.

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