First in a series of profiles of the candidates running for Allyson Schwartz’s vacated congressional seat.
Val Arkoosh is the only Democratic candidate running for Allyson Schwartz’s soon-to-be vacated congressional seat who doesn’t have a background in politics.
An anesthesiologist who specializes in administering medicine during labor, Arkoosh is entering the political arena because, as she puts it, she wants to “make the community healthier.”
But, for Arkoosh, that means more than well-visits and affordable care.
“When I say healthier, it’s not just about being able to go to the doctor, although that is an important part of it,” Arkoosh said. “It means having a good education, living in a safe neighborhood and having economic security so that people can pay the bills.”
Originally from the Midwest, Arkoosh has lived in the Philadelphia area since 1986, when she relocated to complete her residency training. She has practiced medicine in the area ever since, at hospitals such as Hahnemann, Jefferson and currently the University of Pennsylvania.
“Over the past 10 or 15 years or so, I was really watching my patients, most of whom were women, increasingly struggling with just day-to-day issues,” Arkoosh said. “Issues like how to pay for medicine versus food versus the rent.”
She said that she noticed these issues “becoming increasingly more common.”
“Moms who previously were very hopeful and optimistic about the life that this child they were likely to have were becoming increasingly concerned that the opportunities to have a happy healthy life were just not going to be there,” Arkoosh said.
So, in 2005, she decided to pursue a master’s degree in public policy from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore so she could get to the bottom of her patients’ woes.
She finished her education in 2007, and by the time Barack Obama was in office she decided to travel to Washington to share her knowledge about health-care policy. She traveled with the National Physicians Alliance, and, as she puts it, “worked on policy development and lobbying on the hill.”
While she wasn’t in office, she got a taste of Washington politics.
“I told myself that if the opportunity ever arose I would think about running,” Arkoosh said. “I think that there are so many career politicians in Congress right now that that has taken over the dialogue. We really need to change the conversation and the only way we’re going to do this is to send a different kind of person to the table.”
Arkoosh met her Abington born-and-raised husband here and the two raised their family in Springfield Township.
She describes herself as a “busy mom,” with three children: a son who is 13 and boy and girl twins who are 11.
Next May, she will face former U.S. Rep. Marjorie Margolies, state Sen. Daylin Leach and state Rep. Brendan Boyle in the Democratic primary.
While Arkoosh lacks the political experience and name recognition of the other three candidates, she has managed to rake in the largest total amount of contributions—$285,000 last quarter and $218,000 in the first quarter.
“I have had the highest amount of contributions to my campaign because people are really excited about a person with my profile running,” Arkoosh said. “I think you see that play out that even though I had no pre-existing email lists or contacts, I still had the most contributions.”
She said that her opponents’ existing campaign infrastructures are likely their greatest advantages, but that her expertise and past experience will give her the edge come May.
“I think I will be able to hit the ground running,” Arkoosh said. “I have a lot of respect for my opponents, but I feel that what differentiates me is that I have considerable background in policy and I have very real world experience that will help the people of the 13th in a way that I feel none of them can offer in Congress.” ••