Mayoral candidate Eileen Brady talks with Street Roots

By Jake Thomas

Eileen Brady is perhaps best known for founding New Seasons Market with her husband Brian Rohter, a chain of stores that has drawn national attention for stocking its shelves with products from local and sustainable sources. But Brady is hoping to leave an even bigger mark on Portland by getting elected mayor. Aiming to bring her “results-driven approach” to city hall, Brady wants to make Portland a place that is both sustainable and nurturing toward businesses.

While Brady serves or has served on the board of multiple nonprofit and government entities and her name was thrown around as potential candidate for U.S. Senate in 2008, she came from more humble origins. Shortly after graduating from Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., she moved to Portland as a young mother and started working at Nature’s Fresh Northwest, a precursor to New Seasons, for $5 an hour, eventually rising to human resources director.

“Portland’s a good city,” says Brady. “It could be a great city. In order to be a great city we’ve got to be able to build that economic piece of the puzzle and provide the civic leadership to get there. That’s what I’m most excited about: How do you move Portland from a good city to a great city?”

Jake Thomas: You’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so far for your campaign. Do you worry that there’s a perception out there that there’s too much private money in politics?

Eileen Brady: Yeah. There’s too much influence. I’ll tell you one thing, you spend a lot of time raising money. My husband was the chair of the Voter Owned Elections campaign, and we came really close to winning. I was very disappointed that we didn’t get over the hump. We think that if we had two more weeks, voters would have kept public financing of elections. I am a huge supporter of campaign finance reform. But right now, we’re playing with the rules we have. If I could wave my magic wand and make this different, I would. I think one of the huge shifts in our politics, locally and nationally, when it comes, will be true campaign finance reform.

J.T.: You support moving ahead on the Columbia River Crossing. How confident are you that the project won’t have an adverse effect on the environmental health of the neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland?

E.B.: Good question. So let’s be really clear what my position is: I support moving forward on the bridge and moving forward on the process toward that end. What I think is going to happen, is there’s going to be a decision we’re going to get soon, and probably the project is going to get slimmed down. There’s no way that project is going to move forward in it’s current existing bulk and size.

This is one of the largest public works projects that we’re going to have that we could bring into reality. Even though it’s been a mess getting to this point, and it’s been a bit of government run amok on the planning process, I’m supportive of moving this thing forward.

So, in terms of how it affects the neighborhoods and the environmental pieces of this puzzle, I think I’m the only candidate who has come out and said that we need congestion pricing or tolling. The choke point is right where you’re thinking of where these neighborhoods are. The issue is really a one-way issue; it really is people coming south. We need to be the model and step up on congestion pricing — period. So I think there are huge opportunities there.

J.T.: In the Portland Business Alliance questionnaire, you said, “Portland is currently trying to use (urban renewal) in a convoluted way as a job development tool.” What’s an example of the city doing that, and what is the proper role of urban renewal?

E.B.: Great question. Let me back up, I’m in this race because I am concerned about the economy in Portland. It is a tough place to find a job or make a living, and it doesn’t have to be that way. The premise of my thinking and my race is that we have a myth here that says that you can’t have a progressive city and a vibrant economy. There’s a whole generation that’s just struggling to create stability in their lives. So that’s the underpinning of why I get into the race.

Urban renewal is ultimately a tool to eliminate blight, an “old-school, 20th century” idea. But at its core, urban renewal is a real estate development tool, and it does a relatively good job at that, and whether we’ve been using it for blighted areas is beside the point in this particular question.

We have to be honest about those dollars, and that tool is about real estate and housing development. We can use some of those dollars for job development, but if we want to be really honest with ourselves, we have to say that either general fund dollars or some other funding mechanism needs to fund true economic development and job development. Right now, it’s much easier to discuss the tax increment, or the services that are going to get created in that area or how you’re going to change the face of the neighborhood.

There are jobs created in URAs, but could you maximize job creation if you had a set of funds you could use differently? Can we set up shared manufacturing centers, with, say, advanced metals manufacturers, or sewing manufacturers, or food processing centers, so that we can literally restart the manufacturing centers in the Portland area and commit to that piece of the puzzle? That takes a certain kind of financing.

What I’m calling for is an economic catalyst team that would work with larger employers to help them accelerate their business programs. A lot of our larger employers have plans to grow and add professional, good-paying jobs with benefits, and the city should be a partner and help accelerate those plans. There are jobs in the pipeline.

For instance, OHSU has 13,000 jobs, the largest employer in the city of Portland, and in the middle of the recession they added 1,100 jobs. Their whole mission is to continue to grow by doing research and development on what they call personalized medicine. In order to build their vision they need some facilities on the hill or on the water front and the city should be a good partner and say what are the land issues? What are the transportation issues? We should be out ahead of them so we’re not slowing the process down.

The Portland Development Commission has some great initiatives like the Main Street Program and the Neighborhood Prosperity Initiative. We should be the best place to start a small business in the country. Ninety five percent of the businesses here have 50 or fewer employees. This is a hot bed of innovation and the city could have a streamlined permitting system for opening and growing small businesses.

J.T.: What are your thoughts on the new Office of Equity and Human Rights, and what are some issues you’re hoping it’s going to tackle?

E.B.: Well, first off. I’d want it to report to the mayor in order for it to really have the credibility that it’s looking for. I’m vey excited about it. I hope its mission can really get clarified so that it’s working on highly leveraged projects that are upstream. Here’s how the office could backfire: the City Council puts forward a set of policies they’ve been working on for months, and someone says, we should have the Office of Equity look at it. That’s not a useful thing to do. You’ve got to have the office looking at projects that are upstream at the initial stages, so they’re going into that as a partner.

J.T.: The affordable housing inventory in the city’s core continues to shrink despite a promise by the city to preserve those units. Meanwhile, the waiting lists for apartments are becoming very long. What are your ideas to expand affordable housing to the lowest income households in Portland?

E.B.: We’re facing a crisis on funding. On top of that, we have a homeless population that we’re not fully addressing. I’m extraordinarily concerned about it. I don’t have the solution. I know that there’s a number of people working on solutions, and it’s got to be one of our top priorities. The one thing that we have to do is be honest and get ahead of it.

It’s really disturbing to me to think that right now, according to the last count, we have about 750 kids that are homeless, and since 2009 the number of homeless families has increased 35 percent. That’s not acceptable. The measure of a great city is how it takes care of its most vulnerable people. That’s one of the things that’s going to be on my immediate priority list. This community can solve this. We can muster the compassion to give 750 kids a place to sleep. Right now, we have close to 2,000 people who are sleeping outside or in an abandoned building or a car. It’s going to take community partnerships to solve the problem.

J.T.: How will you work with the county and state to develop better solutions for people experiencing poverty?

E.B.: I’ve been on the Oregon Health Fund Board and the Oregon Health Policy Board. For the past few years, I’ve been working on health policy, which really links the state, the counties and private industry in a solution-building process.

We need to have people in the room who are not afraid of the complexity of the problem and recognize that it’s a multi-stakeholder problem and find our set of shared values and build something together that can be more than a white paper on the shelf. I don’t tolerate white papers on the shelf at all. I’m always looking for the biggest boldest solution, and I don’t see boundaries so much on these jurisdictions.

For instance, the Oregon Health Policy Board brought together insurance executives, hospital executives, labor leaders and community activists to say we should cover the kids; we should make sure that every child in Oregon has access to health insurance. That seemed like an impossible dream four years ago. I’m optimistic, even though things can seem complicated, if you get the right people in the room.

J.T.: Employment is at the foundation of self-sufficiency. What will you do to help people with multiple barriers to getting hired?

E.B.: I’ve certainly worked in an industry focused on saying that there’s a lot of work that people can do if you give them a chance, or a second chance. If you’ve been an inmate, you deserve a second chance. You have to believe in people and that they can take on different jobs. You have to think past barriers. You can make reasonable accommodations for a lot of individuals in many jobs, and I’ve been very successful in doing that. It really creates a sense of community to bring in people with disabilities so that everyone is working together.

J.T.: Every year public transportation gets more expensive, while services get cut. The Free Rail Zone is always threatened with elimination. What ideas do you have to preserve the Free Rail Zone?

E.B.: I want that Free Rail Zone. There are three things you’re going to hear me talk about in this campaign: One is jobs and the economy, the public safety system and the neighborhoods east of 82nd Avenue. One thing that is key for the neighborhoods east of 82nd is more bus service to job sites and the city center. I’m adding to your question here.

J.T.: How about the Free Rail Zone?

E.B.: I’d have to look at the budget. I think it’s one of the great regional draws for visitors, not just for people who live and work there. We have to think about it from a hospitality perspective. Great cities of the world have great transportation systems.

2 responses to “Mayoral candidate Eileen Brady talks with Street Roots

  1. This article has sealed the deal for me. Thank you StreetRoots for asking such great questions. And thank you, Candidate Brady for giving me something to hope for in Portland’s Mayoral race.

  2. Pingback: Vote: Mayoral candidates on housing and homelessness | For those who can’t afford free speech

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