The Time Is Now

Support local, independent reporting.

Help the city we love by joining Friends of Willamette Week.


Hotseat: Eileen Brady

She's running for mayor based on her business experience.

Four years ago, Eileen Brady considered at launching her political career by challenging a two-term U.S. senator, Gordon Smith. At the time, some—including this newspaper—suggested she run for mayor of Portland (see "Done Deal," WW, Nov. 28, 2007). Brady, a co-founder of the New Seasons grocery store chain, did neither. But this election cycle, Brady was first out of the gate to challenge Mayor Sam Adams in next year's City Hall elections. She got in before former City Commissioner Charlie Hales entered the race, and before Adams surprised the city by saying that he wouldn't seek a second mayoral term. 

Brady, 50, sat down with WW in two interviews totaling 2 1/2 hours. She told us about her background—growing up in a politically active Irish-Catholic family in Chicago; being a working mother after graduating from The Evergreen State College in Olympia; hashing out concepts for New Seasons on sheets of butcher paper. She also talked about serving on the Oregon Health Fund Board, which in 2008 proposed health insurance reforms later adopted by the Legislature.

After getting to know her better, we wanted to hear her plans for the city—which, at this stage, remain pretty vague. An edited version of those conversations follow.

WW: You say your top priorities are jobs and the economy. What do you do, as mayor, to bring jobs to the city?

Brady: I think there’s any number of things you can do. Can the city by itself create jobs? I mean, you can create some jobs, but you can’t create a whole economy, right?… The city can focus on keeping the cost of services at a reasonable level. [W]e need to spend Water Bureau revenue on Water Bureau projects.… You have to be able to say no to some of the special projects.

Some of the elephants in the room in this city are the unfunded police and fire pensions. We’ve got something like over $3 billion that we have to be able to deal with. And if we don’t plan for it, we’re going to run ourselves into some trouble. 

So what’s the plan? 

So here’s the thing: I don’t have “the plan.” Here’s what I can guarantee you…I’m not afraid of the elephant in the room. You have to be able to put it on the table. Do I have the solution for it? No. There is not a plan for it. We need a plan.


Let’s talk about those things for which you do have a plan. 

Let’s talk about Dan Saltzman’s plan for the utility rate review commission…. I would throw 100 percent of my support behind that at this particular point in time. [L]et’s talk about the ability to have a business-friendly city…. It is very complicated to work through this city.

Are you talking about the permitting process? 

Let me give you a story about New Seasons Market. We go to open a store at [Southeast] 20th and Division… [I]t’s on a set of parcels, part of which are zoned neighborhood commercial. They said, “You know what, you don’t need to change the zoning, as long as the part that’s zoned residential stays a parking lot.”…[T]hen we realized, you have to put the dumpster somewhere. So you put the dumpster on the side of the store—where this parking lot is zoned residential.… All dumpsters have to have a canopy over them. It then triggers a re-zoning.

Two hundred and forty thousand dollars later in fees and attorneys and several months’ delay of the project, we finally have a parcel zoned neighborhood commercial with a grocery store and a canopy and a dumpster. 

Can you be specific about what you would do as mayor about this?

We need a service-oriented culture.… There was a gentleman who was working with the city on a residential contract project, and waiting for permits to go through, waiting for information. Finally, [he] called the supervisor: “What’s going on?” “Well, he’s out of the office, he’s on vacation, he’s been on vacation.” He’s been on vacation? Well, we’re under a deadline here. How come the guy isn’t putting his out-of-office message on? There’s some really basic, thoughtful things that can shift, without an additional cost.

I’m looking forward to being more specific throughout this campaign. I’m at the theme level right now. It’s how I operate in general.

I have to fall back on my record on this one. I’ve created organizations that are very, very service oriented, where the employees are the heroes.

Tell us more about your agenda. 

At the top level, big themes—developing the economy, job development in the community, and all while maintaining our values. We’ve got to have a livability platform that extends to all neighborhoods, including underserved neighborhoods, particularly in outer East Portland. We’ve got to really look at the key issues facing public safety more closely. And I think underlying all that, or pushing all that, is fiscally managing the city responsibly.

Can you be as specific as you can about what you would do differently?

I think the city suffers from not being able to say, “What problem are we trying to solve, given the project that we have?”

Let’s look at some projects that we’ve stalled on, which I think are unacceptable. The Memorial Coliseum Project, you can even throw the [Columbia River Crossing] into that even though the city’s not, you know, fully accountable for that project. The Sustainability Center project. All of those—and there are others—suffer from not having, from being aspirational ideas, with not a strong financing or revenue plan behind them.

What’s your take on the CRC? Do you support the current proposal for a new freeway bridge?

This project will not go forward in its current form.

Do you think it should?

I think parts, not the entire project.… I like to do my homework.…  So, I have not come to a conclusion on which is the best option. 

You mentioned public safety. What would you do differently from the current police commissioner?

I think the mayor has to have the police bureau. It’s certainly one of the functions in the charter that the mayor has, which is to select the police chief. 

We’ve got to work more effectively with [Multnomah County, which runs mental health services]. Do I have that plan? No. I think it has to be worked out.… The force [also] needs to look more like the community. 

So, in your mind, the force is not diverse enough? Generationally diverse? Gender diverse?

Probably both. For certain, on the racial side.

Can you offer a critique of the Portland Development Commission? What’s PDC doing right, what’s it doing wrong, what should it be doing that it’s not?

It’s been used a bit as a cookie jar for the Council because of its current structure. 

Second issue: Urban renewal is a tool, I think, of the 20th century to take care of blight. It’s a real estate development tool, and we have been using it in almost a convoluted way to try and have it be an economic development/jobs development tool.

We have now moved forward into a situation, into a world where urban renewal’s probably a really appropriate tool to use in some parts of this city. So, let’s just say outer East Portland. I think there is a huge amount of urban renewal that could be done.

You said urban renewal has been used as a cookie jar by members of the Council. 

[B]ecause of the way the Council is set up, we end up with multiple agendas as opposed to a single agenda for the city sometimes. 

Are you saying urban renewal projects have been funded not because they part of the city’s overall agenda, but rather an individual commissioner’s?

You know, I’m not going to go there today.… I’d like to come back and talk to you about that.

What are your primary qualifications for this job? 

Entrepreneur. Founded a company that grew to 2,000 jobs in 10 stores….New Seasons, founded on three principles, right? Creating neighborhoods, progressive workplaces and creating a regional food economy.… [T]hose three things translate really well. 

Let’s go to [my role on the state] health policy board.… We were able to say, a couple of things, one is, “Let’s cover all the kids in Oregon with health insurance.” And actually, 95 percent of the kids in Oregon have access to health care as of now because an unusual set of stakeholders pulled together.… I asked for bold solutions. I said, “We need to be able to think outside the box.”

How would you grade the city’s response to the federal corruption investigation of Portland parking manager Ellis McCoy?

There is some structural problem with the city from a purchasing perspective, and I don’t know what it is, but it has something to do with who has how much authority to make what purchasing decisions.

CIVIL RIGHTS: Brady says the Portland Police Bureau “look more like a community.”
Credits: Jacob Garcia

A lot of the problematic parking contracts went before Council. What will you do to prepare yourself to ask the right questions in those situations? 

I certainly would talk to the contracts manager and say, “What are we looking at, what are our exposures, what are our risks?”

Well, in this case the contracts manager was allegedly taking kickbacks.

It’d be interesting to look at how the county does it currently versus how the city does it. That’s the first thing I would do in this particular situation—say, “What’s the county doing?”

You were a strong supporter of public campaign financing in Portland. You’re now going to have to raise probably $1 million to run for mayor. How are you going to avoid the corrupting power of money in politics?

All I can say is, “I wish it was not that way.”… You’re going to have to take my word for it.… I’ve lived by a set of ethics in my life—I don’t intend to change it. I’m a vision-driven person, I’m running for this city, I’m running for the people of Portland, and I’m going to continue to maintain that.