Green buildings with no people in them and streetcars with no riders

by Dave Lister

I wasn’t surprised when Portland City Commissioner Randy Leonard announced that he would not seek another term. There had been rumors to that effect for some time.

Nor was I particularly surprised when Leonard seemingly hand-picked his successor, progressive activist Steve Novick, by giving him advance notice and making sure that Novick’s campaign was ready to hit the ground running as soon as he made his announcement. But even though Leonard is not the type to go softly into the good night of retirement, I am a little surprised that he wants to pick the mayor’s successor as well as his own, by declaring that he would endorse Police Chief Mike Reese if he chooses to run.

I think Reese is doing a good job as chief of police. He has a tough task in a decidedly anti-cop political environment. He’s doing the best he can between the pressures of the Occupy Portland supporters on the City Council and the public outcry to clear the parks. He’s doing a good job managing the bureau and working with the union. But does that make him qualified to be mayor? And is furthering the status quo by putting another career public servant in the mayor’s office what we need when the most pressing issue is the revitalization of our local economy?

Mayoral hopeful Eileen Brady, recently endorsed by former mayor and police chief Tom Potter, is navigating in tricky waters. In a town where too many view business as bad and profit as evil, the New Seasons co-founder’s message is a balancing act of talking job creation while retaining her sustainability credentials.

“Wherever I go, whether it’s a neighborhood meeting in Southeast Portland or a meeting with business leaders downtown, I’m told the issue of building a vibrant economy is the top priority,” she told me. “I’ve spent the last 25 years creating good jobs with full-family health benefits, and there’s nothing that says you can’t have a progressive city and a vibrant economy. But unless we change direction, I fear our city will be filled with green buildings with no people in them and streetcars with no riders.”

Even though Brady’s effort to emphasize her green bona fides sometimes seems comically overdone (she made a point of telling me that she rides her bike, is an avid composter and keeps chickens in her yard), it’s clear this job creator has some good ideas about improving Portland’s economy. “I’m an entrepreneur by nature,” she says, “and when I see a problem I’m on it immediately. We need a job-accelerating permitting system consolidated under a single bureau with a service-oriented culture. And we need to reform the city’s fee structure, which is geared toward large organizations and not the small businesses that we need to grow.”

Brady also recognizes the importance of retaining the city’s manufacturing base and our working waterfront. “Portland is a city that likes to make things, and we need to continue that,” she says. “I support having a working harbor and think that Portland’s should be the model for a sustainable, working harbor.”

Although recent polling shows the electorate largely undecided, as Brady finds her voice she is leading the two other declared candidates, Charlie Hales and Jefferson Smith. There’s no doubt that a jobs message should resonate both locally and nationally in the next election. The question is whether Brady’s experience signing the front of paychecks will be viewed as a plus by the voters. If it is, she may prevail. If not, she will be politically eviscerated, like so many business candidates before her.

Dave Lister is a small-business owner who served on Portland’s Small Business Advisory Council.