Paging Dr. Sumchai - Page 2

Can a brainy physician bring environmental justice issues to the mayor's race?

And then there's the geographic proximity to the site of exposure," Sumchai explains, gesturing to the schools, residences, and neighborhoods that lie downwind of Lennar's site.

From Monster Park, we take the freeway, exiting at Sunnydale, where Sumchai's family moved when she was seven.

"When we talk about 'affordable housing,' what we really mean is affordable to people making $80,000, while people making $12,000 to $20,000, which is the real average median income in the Bayview, have nowhere to go," Sumchai says. She argues that developers on city-owned land should be required to offer 30 percent to 45 percent of their units at prices affordable to very low-income residents.

Crime is another issue that's important to the candidate. Sumchai, who used to take the bus from Sunnydale to the Lutheran church on Palau and still uses public transit three times a day, says the gangs she saw then had low-velocity weapons and knives, while today they potentially have access to access military assault weapons.

"The lethality of the gang activity has become enormously problematic," she says, noting that the likelihood of getting enmeshed in the criminal justice system lessens for kids involved in after-school activities more than two times a week.

Sumchai has never lived the posh, comfortable life that is often associated in the public mind with successful physicians. In fact, she's had to be rescued herself from "critical stressors, major traumas [that] could have led me down a path that was not so productive."

In 1999, she had to surrender her medical license. As California Medical Board records tell it, a series of personal catastrophes hit, and Sumchai was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after she experienced insomnia, anxiety, emotional upwellings, and re-experienced traumatic moments "when threatened-stressed or exposed to reminders of her graphic experiences as a emergency trauma physician." These upwellings became "explosive outbursts of anger and paranoia" and contributed to Sumchai's problems, according to her records, which indicate that she received a 116-day stint in county jail, three years' probation, and a $200 fine for resisting arrest.

Claiming that she did not receive the medical care she needed when she was imprisoned, Sumchai says, "I have as a physician been to the mountaintop and also to the bottom of the pit in terms of my experiences of how the sick, disabled, homeless, and mentally ill are looked upon and treated."

Crediting the influences of key mentors "who had the courage to intervene and bring in resources and moral compasses," Sumchai says her medical license was reinstated in December 2005, but she has no interest or intention of returning to work in emergency or trauma operations. Today she works as a personal trainer, a sports nutrition consultant, and a fitness industry administrator in between writing for the San Francisco Bay View, meditating, doing Pilates exercises, and running for mayor.

And she's still constantly in fights — even with her friends. Joe O'Donoghue, the fiery former head of the Residential Builders Association, hired her as a personal trainer and told her earlier this year — in confidence, he insisted to us — that former superintendent Matt Gonzalez was getting ready to enter the mayor's race. The moment she left the gym, Sumchai called Gonzalez — and O'Donoghue promptly fired her.

For now, Sumchai is setting her sights on bringing about change by debating issues that otherwise aren't being voiced on behalf of folks whose needs and concerns are being neglected.

Editor's note: The original version of this story failed to note that Sumchai is a practicing physician as well as a personal trainer and nutrition consultant. She has an active medical practice in West Portal.