Dr. Hisam Goueli, a psychiatrist and performer, moved to Seattle in 2012 from Georgia, knowing Washington state can be a place his undocumented partner can get a driver's license, where the couple can likely soon get married. (Referendum 74 passed that year.) So he took a job leading a psychiatry program at the University of Washington's Northwest Hospital and Medical Center.
Throughout his time at the hospital, Goueli said he noticed patients' average length of stay triple, from 10-14 days when he started to 40 days now. He sees 27 patients a day, he said, 20 of whom are typically homeless—many of them bankrupt from health care bills. Now he's running for city council position 8 seat, he said, to change the rules and "get the things my patient needs."
"I thought we could do better," Goueli told PubliCola. "Politics was not necessarily something I dreamed of doing, but it became clear that health care was just not represented in policymaking decisions, and that was really a detriment to people."
At the same time, Goueli—who in his spare time performs improv, burlesque, and scripted or musical theater—said many of his friends from arts communities were moving out of Seattle because they could no longer afford it. He said he wants more of the conversation around affordable housing to include "livability," increasing public green spaces and parks; he said it's not only what makes Seattle a place people want to live but has health benefits when more residents have access to those spaces.
Goueli has never run for elected office, and he's raised much less money ($31,000) than frontrunners Jon Grant ($173,000), Teresa Mosqueda ($187,000), and Sara Nelson ($124,000). But he said he thinks he's uniquely experienced developing rapport and educating diverse people from all levels of income or status—"all of the skills you need to be an effective politician."
"I think that politics is all about relationships and as a psychiatrist, I am an expert in relationships," Goueli said. "I form relationships better than anyone I know because that has been my expertise...and I think that's powerful. I think that's unlike what other candidates have done and (can) do."
Goueli said if he could, he would want to chair the Human Services and Public Health Committee. He wants to earmark $25 million into Federally Qualified Health Centers, a safety net program that provides comprehensive primary and preventive health care regardless of residency. (Those health centers would be federally funded even if Obamacare were to be repealed.) He criticized the city for its spending, such as more than $20 million a year on police overtime, but didn't specify where the $25 million would come from.
"The one thing about Seattle which is striking—there's really no accountability on where the money goes," Goueli said, adding that residents are feeling "property levy fatigue" over the city's tax increases. "There's tremendous amounts of waste. I think we have to take a really critical look of where we're spending that money and what are the results of that money."
He wants the city income tax revenues (if the tax passes legal muster) to go to reducing property taxes. He also opposed the city's recent soda tax as a regressive tax and said it didn't go far enough— it should be 3 cents per ounce, he said—if council members wanted to reduce consumption.
"If really the goal is to change public behavior, then let's change public behavior. So let's be really aggressive about it," Goueli said. "If the goal is to raise money, I think that the inequity of not taxing diet soda was really relevant."
Raised by Egyptian immigrants in Minneapolis and Madison, Goueli went to the University of Wisconsin-Madison's medical school and specialized in psychiatry. He wants more crisis intervention and de-escalation training for officers (a mandatory 40 hours instead of eight, at Harborview Medical Center) and heavily criticized police for how they have used deadly force.
"I've been in some very dangerous situations, but we have never killed anybody," Goueli said.
Goueli loves being a doctor, he said, and has no intention of pursuing a career in politics. But he said his experience in the health care sector would be a valuable voice on the council.
"I fiercely care about what happens to people," he said. "Really my whole life has been about that."