This week, Eileen Brady became the first candidate in the Portland Mayoral race the debut TV commercials.
Brady’s relatively new to election-year politics, but has quickly become one of the front-runners in the Portland mayoral race. Primary ballots will be going out at the end of the month. April Baer reports.
Last weekend, Eileen Brady made the rounds, knocking on doors in Southeast Portland’s Ladd’s Addition.
“Hi! I’m Eileen Brady, I’m running for Mayor.”
It’s a time-honored part of running for elected office - something her opponents Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith have done many times over the years.
Brady says she’s been doing more door-knocking lately. Early in the campaign she spent more time with different groups in the city.
“I’ve been in over 200 community meetings. That’s not counting all the one-on-one meetings,” she said.
Some voters are already aware of Brady’s history working for Nature’s Fresh Northwest. She and her husband, Brian Rohter, were part of the investment team that started New Seasons markets, a Nature’s offshoot that’s become very successful, with twelve locations around the region.
Brady said, “When we helped build the natural food industry, it required bringing some very unusual stakeholders together. For instance, farmers, fishers, and ranchers. They tend to be more conservative, politically, and urban consumers, who tend to be more liberal. And you have to get over the political divide, and realize you share more than you don’t share.”
Brady later became a vice president for food and farm policy at EcoTrust, the non-profit that works to create models for sustainable economies. That’s where then-Multnomah County Commissioner Serena Cruz Walsh first met her.
Still, Walsh says she took her time checking out the wide-open field of mayoral candidates. She says she only made up her mind after a casual coffee to hear Brady’s take on the issues. Walsh says she heard some differences between Brady and her competitors.
Walsh said, “They all said nice things about paid time off. She’s actually led the management of paid time off. That takes the ability to speak to small business owners like me and others about how will it affect your payroll, how will you manage it. She talks about it from the perspective of jobs. It’s about people being able to do jobs and their work.”
Brady has also carved out support among some key downtown business groups, including the Portland Business Alliance, and a group of entrepreneurs who’ve been quietly expanding the city’s tech sector.
Nitin Khanna is the CEO of MergerTech. At a Brady campaign event last December, he talked about how he felt Brady really got the message about what new businesses need.
Khanna explained, “She gets that if we’re the place where investors are attracted to, and employers are attracted to, if we’re to be the kind of place where when people sell their companies, they remain here to invest. Portland needs to have a brand that’s business friendly and tech-company friendly.”
Khanna says Brady bothered to reach out and find out what’s important to tech executives - advocacy for continuing incubators programs, city policies that make it easier for start-ups to get and maintain office space, and a focus on education as a quality-of-life issue.
In addition to Brady’s bounce with the business community, she’s also the top fundraiser in the field.
Jefferson Smith has raised $185,000 in cash contributions so far in 2012. Charlie Hales greported $167,000 over the same period. Brady has brought in $277,000 this year alone.
But she may have to spend part of the next six weeks reassuring voters that those qualities matter.
Jim Moore teaches politics at Pacific University. Watching the mayoral race, he says Brady’s surely aware that Portland voters have sometimes turned on candidates they perceived as having too much money or business influence.
“The business identity has not been a very strong one for past 20 years,” Moore said.
“The thing that haunts everybody is Jim Francesconi’s campaign eight years ago. He was the million dollar candidate who got absolutely creamed by the outsider, Tom Potter. When does campaign fundraising become a liability? When that’s the main focus when people look at your campaign. You’ve got to turn funds into credible campaign that reaches across the city and tries to mobilize voters to get excited about you.”
Brady backers say her sustainable business bio and her ability to build rapport with voters will prevail.
Back in her north Portland office, Serena Cruz Walsh gestures to the dented table and dusty floors in her tiny office conference room. Walsh now works at CityHouse builders, the company she co-founded with her husband, that focuses on building affordable housing.
“So you’re sitting here in our office, April, which is clearly not a Pearl District ecology! This business owner thinks she gets it.”
Brady says she’s focusing her campaign on getting Portland into a 21st Century model for government.
“I’m not running for Mayor just because we need a Mayor. We need new leadership for a new era. We need to be innovative and entrepreneurial in our resources. I believe I brign the need style leadership that’s needed here in Portland right now.
Ballots are due May 15th.
To learn more about some of the other candidates in the race, go to opbnews.org. And be sure to tune in for Thursday’s Think Out Loud. This special program will feature conversations with the three leading candidates for mayor. That’s Thursday morning at 9 a.m., on OPB, OPB Plus TV or online at opb.org. The show will be broadcast the following evening at 9 p.m. on OPB TV.