It's dawn on a Tuesday, and 30 women have gathered in a 15th-floor conference room in the Standard Plaza at a sold-out breakfast of coffee, melon and bagels. They've come to hear Portland's most buzz-worthy politician in years, Eileen Brady.
The president of the Women's Center for Leadership introduces Brady, 50, with a recitation of her achievements: chairman of a publishing company, high-tech executive, leader at an environmental nonprofit, and co-founder of New Seasons Market.
When it's her turn, Brady delivers something more than a stump speech. Instead, she talks about how she stitched those career highlights into a compelling personal narrative.
It's a tapestry, she says, woven from disparate strands of her life—from a teenager who might have been at home marching with Occupy Portland, to a young mother working in a grocery store, to a wealthy businesswoman.
She learned how to do this, Brady says, by reading Composing a Life, a 1989 book by anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson.
"Women don't tell their stories the same way as men do, and that's OK," Brady says. "If we can learn to tell our stories like this, we can take power in a situation."
Her story's power has propelled Brady from a virtual unknown a year ago to the best-financed and most-talked-about candidate for mayor of Portland.
With many voters still undecided, she is nonetheless the front-runner among the leading opponents, former City Commissioner Charlie Hales and state Rep. Jefferson Smith (D-East Portland).
WW has spoken to five dozen people who have known Brady throughout her life. Friends and co-workers say she is intelligent and hardworking, tireless and charismatic.
"I love her," says Linda Delgado, government affairs director of Oxfam America. "It's not that easy to find a person who is incredibly good with people, deeply caring and giving, and who's also very effective. Leaders like that don't come along very often."
Brady claims to have 25 years of experience as a manager and executive—a claim that doesn't quite add up. But the thrust of her career has been sales and marketing, whether it's groceries, CD-ROMs or email lists.
"Eileen is a very capable person," says Spencer Beebe, president of Ecotrust, the nonprofit where Brady worked from 2001 through 2005. "She's smart. She's a good seller. She's instinctively political."
Brady has also said she's an entrepreneur who has taken risks. "I know what it's like to have thousands of people depending on you for a paycheck," she said in a speech last year.
But Brady has never run a company or had to make a payroll, nor has she ever been elected to office or run a large organization as the top executive. In these areas, she would enter office with less experience than any major mayoral candidate in decades.
"It's true I'm not a politician," she says. "I bring a lot of life experience."
Most crucial to her campaign—and most problematic—are her stories about New Seasons Market, the 13-year-old local grocery chain.
Brady has called herself a New Seasons âfounding co-owner.â WW asked her last summer to name her chief qualification to be mayor.
"Entrepreneur," she said. "Founded a company that grew to 2,000 jobs in 10 stores."
But neither of those things is true, and a great deal else about her New Seasons story is exaggerated (see more at "New Seasons Founder Refutes Brady's Claims").
The challenge Brady faces—now and if she's elected—is moving her personal story into one of specifics and action.
For now, what she offers voters is her story.
"Listen up," Brady tells the women at the leadership breakfast, before launching into her narrative. "You're listening for what works."
BRADY ON SALES AND STORYTELLING
Brady gave a talk called "The New Seasons Story" at the Oregon Wine Industry Symposium in Portland on February 21, 2012. Video by Kara Wilbeck.
Brady's story often begins with the murder of her grandfather, a Chicago police detective shot while on duty in 1945. Newspaper stories say Charles A. Brady Sr. was shot by a mobster who in turn was found buried in a field.
Charles Jr. became a prosperous lawyer and businessman in Evanston, Ill., an affluent Chicago suburb, where he and his wife, Susanne, raised five children. Eileen, born in 1961, was the oldest.
Brady's mother became a member of Evanston's city council and a Democratic Party activist. She appointed Eileen, then 12, as a precinct captain, canvassing door-to-door.
"We were a straight-arrow family with straight-arrow parents," Brian Brady, her youngest sibling, says. "We grew up thinking politics could be a noble pursuit."
At Evanston Township High School, Eileen Brady joined an alternative program called "senior seminar" because she didn't like the way she was being graded by her science teacher. "She was a bit of a rebel, and looking for a path," says Phil Roden, one of the seminar teachers and a family friend, who's now a business partner with Brady's brother Chip.
Brady went to Hampshire College, a small, unorthodox liberal arts university in Amherst, Mass. During spring break her freshman year, she embarked on what she now calls a "formative experience."
Freshly trained at a camp run by an activist priest, Phillip Berrigan, and a nun, Elizabeth McAlister, Brady and four other Hampshire women staged an anti-nuclear "die-in" at the Pentagon on March 21, 1980. They harangued workers and smeared blood and ashes on the walls.
"A litany recalling U.S. aggressions was read," reported The Climax, Hampshire's student-run newspaper. "A siren. People. Splash. Death. Red. Dust. Blood. Noise. Screams. Police. Screams. Applause. Death. Dust. Gag."
Police arrested Brady and four others and cited them for inflicting property damage, a federal violation. Brady later defended herself in court and that June served 14 days of a 30-day sentence in a Richmond, Va., jail. Brady says she led her other defendants in a chant as she was led from the courtroom to jail.
Brady says the experience taught her a valuable lesson: "To stand up for your convictions and live with the consequences."
It also changed the course of her life. "My parents said, 'You can go back to school anywhere you want, but you may not go back to that school,'" she recalls.
Brady transferred to another experimental school—the Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., where students make up their own majors and don't get grades. "It was a womb place—very wet, very nurturing, very safe," recalls Kathleen Granger, a friend of Brady's from those days.
Brady studied what she calls "organizational development," and in her senior year was chosen by her peers to lead the Services & Activities Fee Allocation Board, Evergreen's closest thing to a student government.
The board ran on consensus. "Eileen was especially good at it," Granger says. "There was no schmooze to Eileen."
Brady was 22 and a senior when she became pregnant. Her boyfriend, Tim O'Connor, worked on Evergreen's organic farm. Their first child, Caitlin O'Brady (a combination of her parents' surnames), was born at home in March 1983. That May, the couple married on the farm. "It was very romantic," Brady says.
Back in Chicago, Brady's mother thought her daughter had joined a cult. Brady ran for the Olympia Food Co-op board. She still remembers her margin of victory: 121-4. Those four lost votes prompted a tearful call to her mother. "She said, 'Oh, Eileen, you have so much to learn,'" Brady recalls.
In March 1985, O'Connor and Brady had a second child, Colin O'Brady, also at home; they lived at the Alexander Berkman Collective, a house in Olympia named for a notorious anarchist. O'Connor soon got a job in Portland at Nature's Fresh Northwest, an organic grocery on Southwest Corbett Avenue.
Within weeks of moving to Portland in January 1986, Brady met the person who would change her life: Nature's president Stan Amy.
Amy, 64, is a native Oregonian and business savant. As a 23-year-old attending Portland State University, he secured a $3 million federal loan to develop student housing. Later in the 1970s, he invested in Nature's Food & Tool and transformed it into Nature's Fresh Northwest.
Nature's flourished under his leadership. Former employees call Amy a visionary and "born-again capitalist," targeting Nature's to mainstream suburbanites and co-op crunchies alike. (Amy declined to talk about Brady for this story. He and his wife, Christy Eugenis, have each donated $10,000 to Brady's campaign. Amy's real estate company has also donated an employee who is serving as a senior adviser to Brady.)
Brady says she met Amy at a Nature's party. "I literally had my babies on either hip," she recalls. She told Amy she wanted to get an MBA but didn't have the money and was looking for work. Amy offered her a job and his mentorship. "The joke for years has been that I got my MBA at the Stan Amy University,â Brady says.
What does one learn at Stan Amy U? "You learn 'No margin, no mission,'" Brady says. This mantra means no world-changing effort can succeed unless it is financially sound. "You learn," she says, "that you can do well and do good at the same time."
Brady says her first job at Nature's, at $5 an hour, was buying used equipment. The résumés she's handed out over the years are inconsistent about dates and her job titles. An older résumé, which she used a decade ago, says she left Nature's in 1995. The current one says she left in 1991. Brady tells WW she left and came back to the company. She says she worked in human resources for Nature's. One résumé says she worked in marketing. The other says she was also training director.
Brady has also given differing accounts as to why she left Natureâs. âI was in the middle of a divorce,â Brady told WW, âand I needed to make more money.â
She left Nature's to work for about four years as a human resources consultant, including placing workers for a temp agency, Employers Overload. It's a chapter she leaves off her résumé. "I simply thought [the jobs] were not significant in the grand scheme," she says.
They also don't fit with her narrative. She leaves those jobs out when telling people, as she often has, that she left Nature's to go directly into what she calls the "dot-com boom."
"It seemed crazy to many, for me to leave a perfectly good job at Nature's to head off into the tech sector," Brady told the East Portland Chamber of Commerce last year. "As geniuses like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were bringing their ideas to the market, I decided to risk my career to help create some of the first digital high-tech products like educational CD-ROMs."
Brady didn't join what most people think of as a dot-com. She helped sell CD-ROMs for Graphic Media, a commercial graphics company expanding into "multimedia marketing" for clients such as Intel and Fred Meyer.
Brady eventually oversaw a team developing and selling software-training CD-ROMs. "It was 60 cents to press CDs, and we were launching some of these titles at 12 million-run rates," Brady recalls. "There was all this margin in them…. My department, sometimes they talked about it as the cherry on the deal."
During these years, Brady remarried. While still married to O'Connor, she had met and began what she calls a "legendary romance" with Brian Rohter, with whom she had worked at Nature's while her husband also worked there. (O'Connor, now remarried and running an organic farm in Hawaii, declined to talk about Brady. She says they are friends. O'Connor has donated $250 to her campaign.)
Rohter brought two children from a previous marriage to the new family home on Mount Tabor. He also came from a Chicago political family. Inspired by author Ken Kesey, he skipped college and moved to Eugene, where he started an organic meat business.
Rohter joined Nature's as a meat buyer in 1991, he recalls. He became Stan Amy's go-to guy. In 1997, GNC bought Nature's, and Rohter became general manager. Two years later, GNC sold the company to Wild Oats, a national natural foods chain.
Rohter soon became dissatisfied and quit to join Amy and another investor, Chuck Eggert, to form what became New Seasons Market.
New Seasons is the most important thread in Brady's story. "In 1999, after I'd done my work in the high-tech world, we founded New Seasons Market," Brady told the leadership breakfast last month. Brady told WW she made "a pile of money" in tech, and Rohter used the money as an early investment in New Seasons.
While Rohter helped launch New Seasons, Brady took another tech job as an executive with an email marketing company, @Once, as a vice president.
The company managed email lists for companies such as Nike, Nintendo and Egghead Software, running what it called "a sophisticated and highly responsive email campaign system."
The company said it targeted only consumers who asked to receive the marketing emails. (Five years after Brady left, the successor to @Once, YesMail Inc., paid a $50,717 civil penalty to the Federal Trade Commission for violating an anti-spam law.)
Her @Once colleagues give her high marks. John Coake, a former vice president of marketing, says Brady was "outstanding…. She probably controlled 30 percent of the company. Meeting with venture capitalists, she was one of the leads.â
Mike Hilts, then chief executive of @Once, says Brady had a âroll-up-your-sleevesâ style and was âvery well-liked.â
The job that opened political doors for Brady was at Ecotrust, which promotes conservation and green development.
Spencer Beebe, Ecotrust's founder, met Brady when New Seasons looked at becoming the anchor tenant for Ecotrust's Pearl District building. He later hired her on Stan Amy's recommendation.
"Eileen was a key member of the management team," Beebe says. "She was full-on here. Seven days a week, we had her full attention."
BRADY ON NEW SEASONS' FOUNDING
Brady told her New Seasons Market founding story to WW in an interview last year. Video by Brian Panganiban.
Her title upon joining Ecotrust in April 2001 was vice president of marketing and information services, a new position. The most visible product of Brady's early work was a 2003 newspaper ad campaign promoting sustainability called "Section Z."
One typical edition promoted local produce through the story of two cartoon tomatoes, "Traveling Tom" and "Local Lucy." Tom is greenish and sickly from long journeys in the back of a truck from farm to produce aisle; Lucy is juicy red and fresh. New Seasons Market helped sponsor the campaign.
Brady says she also helped build Chinook Book, the local "green" coupon guide. Chinook Book had three years of success behind it when Brady was appointed to the board seat reserved for Ecotrust, an investor. (Brady has since made an investment in the book's publisher, Celilo Group Media, and has served as board chairman.)
Brady left Ecotrust in 2005. Before she did, she says, Beebe offered her the nonprofit's top position. âHe wanted me to run the company,â she said.
Beebe doesn't remember it exactly that way. "I probably said, 'Hey, I know you could do this,ââ Beebe says. â[But] I didnât need someone to replace me.â
Ecotrust was Brady's last job. Rohter's New Seasons' earnings have allowed her family to live comfortably. (In August 2005, two months before she left Ecotrust, Brady and Rohter purchased a $1.37 million beach house in Manzanita, according to public records.)
Politics consumed more of her attention. In 2007, then-Gov. Ted Kulongoski appointed Brady to the Oregon Health Fund Board, a panel created by the state Legislature to overhaul the state health-care system.
She and Rohter started giving larger donations to Oregon Democrats and, in 2007, Brady considered challenging then-U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore).
Brady traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee chairman, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).
Republicans took Brady's candidacy seriously enough to release an open letter that questioned her failure to vote in local elections, and federal health and safety violations at New Seasons. (Brady says she has a solid voting history; the violations at New Seasons were minor.)
Brady at the time told the Associated Press she was "not surprised" to be seen as a threat by Republicans. But she didn't run, and then-Oregon House Speaker Jeff Merkley beat Smith for a Senate seat in the 2008 general election.
In late 2009, Rohter sold most of his shares in New Seasons to a Portland buyout firm, Endeavour Capital, for some $11.2 million. (Rohter listed his and Brady's net worth at $712,000 when New Seasons started.)
That September, Brady traveled back to Chicago, where she hosted a reception for the 30-year reunion of her class at Evanston Township High School. Former classmates told WW that, at the gathering, Brady said she intended to run for mayor of Portland in 2012.
When Brady spoke to the Women's Center for Leadership last month, she told her audience that offering stories about consensus building, collaboration and problem solving won't get your audience to engage. "One way to talk about those things," she said, "is to actually talk about the results."
Brady says her experience is more than just a narrative—it's proof she's ready to lead Portland.
"I think Portland really needs to have a values-driven, mission-driven leader who understands how to manage the bottom line," she says. "And when you have real-world experience like this, you know what it means to do that.â âIntern Heidi Groover contributed reporting to this story.
BRADY ON HER QUALIFICATIONS
Brady also told WW that New Seasons was her chief qualification for mayor. Video by Brian Panganiban.
Chuck Eggert says Brady and her campaign have distorted "the true history of the company."
by Nigel Jaquiss and Corey Pein 243-2122
One of the original investors who created New Seasons Market disputes Eileen Brady's claims that she was a "founding co-owner" of the company and played a meaningful role in creating the popular grocery chain.
Brady's claims have been the cornerstone of her campaign for mayor: that as a co-founder of New Seasons, a store that defines Portland, she's proven she deserves a chance to lead the city.
Chuck Eggert, who with partner Stan Amy provided 89 percent of New Seasons' start-up money, tells WW that Brady had nothing to do with coming up with the idea for the company. (Records show Brady's husband, Brian Rohter, the company's first president, put up 11 percent.)
Eggert also confirmed what WW has already reported: Brady never held a management position at New Seasons, never worked for the company, nor played any substantive role in its operations.
"There were three original board members and owners—myself, Stan Amy and Brian Rohter," Eggert says. "Eileen was married to a board member who was a founder."
The website of New Seasons' current owner, Endeavour Capital, says the "company was founded in 1999 by three pioneers in the natural foods industry."
Eggert, 63, is founder and CEO of Pacific Natural Foods, a Tualatin-based company that since its inception in 1987 has grown into one of the nation's largest organic foods producers. He later was a primary founder and investor in New Seasons with Amy.
WW has been asking Amy for weeks to talk about Brady's involvement at New Seasons, and he has repeatedly declined. When WW asked the Brady campaign to respond to Eggert's comments, Amy, a major financial backer of Brady's candidacy, released a statement.
"There have been questions regarding Eileen Brady's role at New Seasons Market and as a co-founder, I want to provide my personal perspective," Amy's prepared statement says in part. "Eileen is one of our co-founders."
In speeches, campaign materials and interviews, Brady has highlighted her association with New Seasons, calling herself a "co-founder" and "founding co-owner."
Not true, Eggert says.
Brady says the idea for New Seasons emerged from a conversation in her living room between her, her husband, Amy, and her late father. New Seasons "started in our house, literally in our office," Brady told WW.
Eggert, however, says he and Amy came up with the plan for what became New Seasons in early 1999 at the Widmer Gasthaus in North Portland. He says they brought Rohter into the deal later and asked him to manage the company.
Brady also claims that in a different meeting she helped conceive the New Seasons model: blending organic foods with conventional brands, which most natural foods stores do not do.
Here's what Brady told WW:
"We were sitting in [Stan Amy's] house, literally, with butcher paper on easels, saying, 'What did we learn from Nature's, how do we do this better, what if?'—and this is where the stroke of brilliance came—what if it was just 75 percent natural and organic foods, and it was 25 percent conventional foods? What if we sold Diet Pepsi?"
Eggert says Brady's claim misstates New Seasons' history. New Seasons, he says, was built on a model already developed by Nature's at least six years before New Seasons started. Nature's had introduced a "crossover" model in its Vancouver store and other locations with great success.
News reports support Eggert's account. Amy told Supermarket News in 1998 that Nature's had pioneered the approach of blending conventional brands with organic and natural foods.
That interview took place the year before Brady has claimed she helped develop New Seasons' crossover model.
The article even invoked Diet Coke as an example of the products Amy says had been introduced into Nature's product line. Rohter also invoked the Diet Coke example in a 1997 WW story.
Eggert says Brady's account of New Seasons' founding also discounts the fact that he, Amy and Rohter built the company around dozens of highly experienced former Nature's employees—store managers, department managers, support staff and others.
"Well over half of the first hundred employees of New Seasons had previously worked for Nature's and brought hundreds of years of grocery experience that had developed Nature's into one of the premier natural food groceries in the country," he says.
"In my mind, there was little to no risk of New Seasons not succeeding," Eggert adds.
In 2010, New Seasons' owners sold a majority stake to Endeavour Capital, a Portland buyout firm. Records show the sale left Rohter with less than a 1 percent interest in New Seasons.
In February, Eggert sold his remaining stake to Endeavour, which means the firm now owns 69 percent of New Seasons.
WW asked Brady to respond to Eggert's refutation of her claims about New Seasons. Her campaign sent this statement from her: "As others have affirmed, I'm proud of my role as a co-founder of New Seasons Market and of the many contributions that I made towards its success and the positive impact the company has had on its employees, suppliers and our neighborhoods."
Now, on March 4, Brady is trying to tighten her connection to New Seasons. Brady's campaign filmed her for a campaign commercial on the sidewalk outside the Concordia New Seasons store at 5320 NE 33rd Ave.
New Seasons officials say the company doesn't endorse political candidates. As for the Brady commercial being shot outside its store, New Seasons spokeswoman Amy Brown says, "We were not asked permission."
Eggert is not supporting any candidate in the mayoral race, but says he is proud of New Seasons' success. He agreed to answer questions to set the record straight.
âIt was important to me,â Eggert says, âto acknowledge the true history of the company.â