Early this month, New Seasons Market announced plans to build its 13th store on a vacant lot in North Portland's Eliot neighborhood.
That's good news for the listless economy and the upscale grocery chain, which employs about 2,000 people.
It's even better news for Eileen Brady, the Portland mayoral candidate who has touted her role as a "co-founder" of New Seasons as her primary qualification for the top job at City Hall.
"I know what it's like to have thousands of people depend on you for a paycheck to support their families," she said in a speech last year.
Brady's campaign website highlights the grocery chain's story, and she does as well on the campaign trail, talking about how she "and her husband, along with two other families and many friends, co-found[ed] the Portland-based business" in 1999.
It's understandable why Brady would make her connection to New Seasons the centerpiece of her campaign. Since it opened in 2000, New Seasons has joined Powell's Books and Stumptown Coffee on the short list of businesses that help define Portland.
"She always identifies herself as a New Seasons founder," says Jim Moore, a political science professor at Pacific University in Forest Grove. "She's relying a lot on the New Seasons brand because it's popular, has spread throughout the city, and is seen as a local entity that has done well and reinvests in the community."
Brady supporters haven't missed the message. At a Brady campaign rally in December, MergerTech CEO Nitin Khanna said she will make City Hall a clean, inviting and well-run place, âjust like New Seasons.â
But previously unreported public documents raise questions about Brady's actual role in the company, and whether her claim to be a "co-founder" has any substantive meaning.
The documents provide details on the finances of a large, privately held company.
In the context of the 2012 mayoral race, however, the ownership stakes the documents reveal are more notable for what they don't contain:
The name Eileen Brady.
"Co-founder" is a term of art, not a legal definition. It is the title Brady provides for her time at New Seasons on her LinkedIn résumé. In a previous version, Brady described herself as a "founding co-owner."
In an interview Jan. 16 at their Mount Tabor home, Brady and her husband, former New Seasons CEO Brian Rohter, addressed exactly what role Brady played in the company.
When pressed, Brady acknowledged she was never an employee, officer or director of New Seasons.
"I was never on the payroll," she said.
She never had an office or a phone number there, nor was she ever paid for any of the time she says she put in.
During the time New Seasons was starting up, Brady held full-time, paying jobs with other organizations.
Nevertheless, Brady insists she played a major role in creating and marketing the New Seasons brand and overseeing a host of important tasks.