Richard Wein is one of seven candidates running for three open seats on the Assembly. The municipal election is Tuesday, October 3rd. (Emily Kwong/KCAW photo)

A longtime surgeon is turning a new leaf in pursuing a local government office. At 67, Dr. Richard Wein was the first candidate to file for the Sitka Assembly race. If elected, he plans to “do his homework” and bring transparency to the public about the decisions at the feet of the Assembly.

Downloadable audio.

Richard Wein is known to many in Sitka as Dr. Wein, but if elected to the Sitka Assembly he’d prefer you call him Richard. He’s been thinking about running for quite some time. “I had gone to Assembly meetings in the past. I always found to be constrained to three minutes because I had opinions on lots of things. This turned out to be a natural segue in life to run for the Assembly,” he said. (Three minutes is the allotted time for persons to be heard).

Wein has been an active voice in Sitka since arriving seventeen years ago, after two decades conducting a full surgical practice in New Jersey. At one point, he was a Chief of Staff at a general hospital overseeing hundreds of surgeons. He sat on the board of trustees for the Atlantic Health System grappling with a multi-million dollar budget. Wein also has a master’s degree in journalism.

All these skills are coalescing in his decision to run for local office. He compares transparency on the Assembly to informed consent in medicine, seeing himself as a translator tasked with giving citizens a full diagnosis of their government.

“The people, the taxpayers, etc. need to know what’s going. Period. This is something I can do and believe it or not, have been trained to do, which is shine a light on various issues,” he said.

Wein says there are three issues he wants to focus on: education, housing, and healthcare. It’s that last point on which he has the most personal frustration. Wein was terminated from Sitka Community for undisclosed reasons in February. If he has an ax to grind, it’s that – in his opinion – the current administration has weakened the hospital.

“The reason Sitka Community has cash flow today is not because of anything the administration is doing that’s so wonderful and innovative, but because the citizens of Sitka support that hospital regardless,” Weid said. “To me, that is an enormous message that the Assembly needs to take, but it’s a two-edged sword.”

The other edge being an estimated $35 million in outstanding retirement and benefit obligations should the Assembly sell Sitka Community. Given Wein’s previous relationship to the hospital and to SEARHC’s Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital – he worked there for a decade  – this begs the question about whether Wein can be open-minded.

KCAW: I’m wondering if you’re be able to make a decision and have your mind changed by information that is receive,  moving forward on the Assembly. Can you be persuaded?

A: As Julien Sorel in “Le Rouge et le Noir” (The Red and the Black by Stendhal) said, ‘I am not slave to my opinion.’ As a surgeon, if you are a slave to your opinion, you’re going to hurt people. You need to take new information that is available and change. And I’ve had to make life-altering decisions. Life and death decisions! So I think the Assembly would actually be easier than what I used to do.

For a person who prefers to do things his own way, KCAW also wanted to know if he respect the protocols and procedures of the Assembly. Wein believes he can. “I can take convention and turn it into something innovative and unique. Also, the way the Assembly works now I feel I have ample room to speak and to work.”

If elected, Wein says the first thing he’d do is give city finances a head-to-toe inspection. He’s worried about how bond debt on the Blue Lake Dam expansion affects the bigger picture.

If we didn’t have the dam debt, we probably wouldn’t be talking about Sitka Community Hospital. People are being sensitized because of these increased rate. Everything has become a touch point. Until some of these basic financial things are settled, we will be a city talking about survival,” Wein said.

“Which is not a bad thing,” he added, suggesting that survival mode will encourage the Assembly to protect what’s most important. As for Sitka’s biggest opportunities?

“The big opportunities for Sitka, I think, are unlimited. I think this is a wonderful place. I think that Sitka’s name is becoming more and more known. I think we should look more towards national recognition,” Wein said.

National recognition – and local solutions. Wein wants to see more of that, adding,  “Sitka is a unique and what is needed are unique answers.” 

Read Richard Wein’s candidate statement here.