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Retired physician Pocekay runs for City Council

Dennis Pocekay spent his career as a physician tending to the ailments of an untold number of patients. Now retired, the 29-year Petaluma resident is widening his scope, hoping to use his decades of experience in public health to alleviate the maladies he says are afflicting the city of Petaluma.

“We’ve got COVID, the economic fallout from COVID, the climate emergency we have declared and our affordable housing emergency that we have yet to declare,” he said. “And really, another public health emergency we have is racism.”

It’s because of these crises, and an urge to make a difference in people’s lives, that Pocekay, 71, is running for one of the three potential seats on Petaluma’s City Council. The self-described progressive Democrat joins four other candidates — Lizzie Wallack, Robert Conklin, Brian Barnacle and Susan Kirks — jockeying to unseat incumbents Gabe Kearney, Kathy Miller and Mike Healy this November.

It marks his second go at the city’s highest elected body, following an unsuccessful bid in 2018.

This time around, his platform’s slogan of a “healthy Petaluma” returns, with affordable housing, climate change, road congestion and racial equity among his top stated priorities.

“I’m running mostly to try to make things better for the people in the bottom half,” Pocekay said. “I feel like those of us near the top have done fine with these crises and those at the bottom are suffering more – they don’t have the bank account, the second home, or nearby relatives to help them in these tough times.”

More specifically, he wants to ensure that everyone who works in Petaluma has the ability to live here, calling out the city’s abysmal progress toward meeting sate-mandated affordable housing goals. If elected, he also promises to advocate for greater support of the newly-minted Climate Action Commission.

“In practical purposes, we haven’t really done anything with it yet,” he said. “I think the council needs to be more agile, because while we’re working on one emergency, another one is being made.”

Pocekay earned an engineering degree from the California Institute of Technology and his doctorate from Creighton Medical School in Omaha, Nebraska. He lives with his wife, Donna Norquist, in Petaluma and has two adult children.

After leaving Kaiser Permanente in 2009, Pocekay threw himself into teaching, volunteering and participating in political campaigns and causes.

In 2011, he was appointed to serve a 2-year term on the Youth Commission and has served as a board member at Mentor Me, a Petaluma nonprofit that provides at-risk youth mentorship and support. He has also represented Petaluma on a Sonoma County climate action group from 2013-15, lobbied for single-payer healthcare, and campaigned for the End of Life Option Act.

In recent years, he’s become involved with the North Bay Rapid Response Network, Just Cause Eviction and the North Bay Jobs with Justice in their work to protect immigrant and tenant rights and raise the city’s minimum wage.

In addition to his activism, Pocekay has served as a substitute and medical competition team coach at Casa Grande High School and taught public health to students at UC Davis, including a three-week teaching trip to Nepal.

It was during his lectures to students explaining how social determinants like housing and income play a key role increasing individual health risks that Pocekay realized that political office would be the best way to create more meaningful change in people’s lives.

Although he’s a relative political newcomer, Pocekay argues that his health-centric approach and years of community involvement will give him the tools to bridge social, economic and racial divides.

“I think there is some value to experience,” he said, referring to the three council incumbents. “But there is a time for new voices and new ideas.”

(Contact Kathryn Palmer at kathryn.palmer@arguscourier.com, on Twitter @KathrynPlmr.)

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