THE BREAKFAST TABLE conversations at Eileen Brady's house over the past week, no doubt, have been interesting.
Brady, the New Seasons co-founder, nonprofit leader, and Portland mom who declared herself a candidate for mayor last week, is off to the races when it comes to raising campaign funds. She had a $55,000-plus war chest when she announced her run last Tuesday, May 31. And even though she's weeks from starting any serious campaigning—like trekking to all 95 or so of Portland's neighborhoods—she's already hauled in nearly $4,000 more in cash since then.
Her $59,014 haul—with only a fraction contributed in increments smaller than $100—trumps the field. By far. The only other candidate in the race (so far), former City Commissioner Charlie Hales, has yet to report any contributions. Same for one other presumed candidate, would-be incumbent Mayor Sam Adams.
And sources say she'll soon be feeling out labor, a current Adams stronghold, and making a case for putting union muscle behind her campaign—something Hales apparently has yet to do.
So why mention Brady's breakfast table? Consider how her husband, Brian Rohter, spent his fall: Meeting with pundits and others to stump, in a failed effort, on behalf of preserving publicly financed elections.
Rohter railed (convincingly, given the Mercury's endorsement) against the corrosive effects of big-dollar fundraising. He noted how large contributions leave candidates beholden to a powerful few, brokers with a limited view on how to run the city.
He invoked the specter of Jim "Million-Dollar" Francesconi, who raised a boatload of cash in 2004 but lost the mayor's office to Tom Potter.
Brady, unsurprisingly, was quick with an answer when I asked last week about how her own expansive fundraising jibed with that message. First she asked me for a donation—"I'm required to say that," she joked. Then she got serious.
We're playing with the rules we have," Brady says. "The public spoke, and we're playing with the rules we have right now."
I asked then if she'd consider—if her opponents would also agree—limiting either the size or the total of her contributions. She didn't bite. Instead she pledged to pad the big gifts with a lot of little ones. And she also noted that many of her large contributions, so far, have come from friends and family.
"We're going to have a terrific grassroots effort," she said, in addition to hitting up "higher-dollar donors."
That's one reason she's committed herself to the neighborhood visits. And it's why she's talking about things like street paving and building up East Portland's ethnic enclaves into actual places more people flock to.
She's pledged to track her visits, starting this summer, on her website. (And if you can gin up a rap song with all 95 names, she says, let her know). It's a good start. Of course, the West Hills money bubble has a gravity pull all its own, and it won't be easy to escape. But if Brady manages to walk that fine line, things could get very interesting next year.