Jay Fathi is running for the seat currently held by Mike OBrien
Jay Fathi is running for the seat currently held by Mike O'Brien Jay Fathi Campaign

Jay Fathi is running for City Council.

Fathi, a Seattle native, Fremont resident, and family physician, announced his candidacy to represent District 6, a seat currently held by Mike O’Brien, on Tuesday. In a phone interview, Fathi told me that his experience working at the 45th Street Clinic, a community health care center that primarily serves low income and uninsured people, as well as running a state health insurance exchange, make him uniquely qualified to sit on the Seattle City Council.

Fathi is the son of an Iranian immigrant who raised him on her own, working part-time as a secretary at the University of Washington. At the time, her part-time salary was enough to rent a single-family home in northeast Seattle. He went to local public schools, then medical school at the University of Washington. After 12 years in community health, he moved to Swedish, where he says he developed community health care partnerships.

After the Affordable Care Act was signed into law in 2012, Fathi spent five years as the president of Coordinated Care, a healthcare exchange serving Washington residents. The organization grew quickly. Fathi says that when he started, Coordinated Care served 34,000 Washingtonians. Five years later, that number was up to a quarter of a million.

Still, things didn’t exactly end well: In December 2017, Coordinated Care was fined $1.5 million by the state for failing to “maintain an adequate network of medical providers," according to the state Insurance Commissioner. The company was ordered to stop selling plans until they could correct the problems, and Fathi was fired from his position. He then returned to medicine, and now both see patients and teaches at UW Medicine. It’s a position that seems to suit him, and he says that working with patients, particularly those experiencing homelessness, has been the formative experience in his life, one that would inform his work on the City Council.

When asked what his major priorities are, the first thing Fathi said is tackling homelessness, but when it comes to specific policy positions he would push, his answer was essentially, “I’m not sure yet.”

“I'm going to spend the next nine months learning,” he said. “I'm going to be listening to a lot of experts and people in our neighborhoods, people in my district, and learning. I'll be developing more specific initiatives, I'm sure, as time unfolds.”

When it comes to upzoning, Fathi endorses it… kind of. He mentions that many of the teachers at his kids’ public schools can’t afford to live in the city, and while mass transit is improving, it’s happening too slowly for people living and working in Seattle right now.

“Land use rules need to be updated to reflect our values and to reflect the city that we're in now,” he said. “The laws aren't set in stone, they shouldn't be set in stone, and they should evolve with the city. There aren't a lot of places to build but up. We need to look at these things on a neighborhood by neighborhood perspective and we need to grow in a really intentional and sensible manner.” But when it comes to his district specifically—is he in favor of upzoning in Ballard?—he says he needs more information.

“I'm going to be drinking from the firehose for the next nine months, knocking on as many doors as I can and talking to as many small business owners and groups as I can. That's how I'm going to learn.”

Fathi was as noncommittal when it comes to cannabis consumption lounges (he says he’s never given it any thought) but was more specific about Democracy Vouchers, which he supports, and the passed-and-then-quickly-repealed head tax to fund homelessness services, which he says he probably would not have. "We have a regressive tax system in Washington state. We definitely need to have changes and improvements in our tax structure but it needs to be done at a state level.”

He called the head tax “overly simplistic” because it failed to account for the root causes of homelessness, which aren’t just the cost of living and a lack of housing but, he says, also mental illness, trauma, and substance abuse, something he saw frequently practicing community medicine. While he said that wealthy companies and individuals should pay more, he’s concerned about how the money is being spent and the lack of coordination in city government.

This “lack of coordination” is something Fathi came back to more than once in conversation, including when I asked what the current City Council is doing right and wrong. “The council does a good job of standing for the ideals that the majority of Seattleites hold,” he said, “but the execution part could stand to be improved.”

Fathi may be a first-time politician, but he seems to have a knack for it: When I asked what his favorite local beer was, he said, “All of the beers in my district are excellent.”