By Megan Poinski
In 2006, two-term Del. Nancy King and newcomer Saqib Ali were on the Democratic Party’s ticket for the three seats in the House of Delegates for Montgomery County District 39.
Four years later, the two Democrats are meeting again at the polls, but this time Ali is trying to knock King out of the Senate seat she was appointed to — and Ali thought he should have.
The party central committee selected King, 60, who served two terms on the school board and two in the House, to replace Sen. P.J. Hogan when he left in 2007 to become the lobbyist for the state university system. Running in her fifth election, King said this is her toughest campaign yet.
“My opponent is an excellent campaigner, so I’m working hard,” King said. “And I’m feeling good about it.”
Ali, 35, the only Muslim in the legislature, won his first campaign for office four years ago, and is known for his aggressive use of social media such as Facebook and his large organization of young supporters. He said King is a “very, very nice lady,” but not liberal enough for District 39 – located around Germantown.
“I feel there is room for improvement over the current state senator, and I think I’m the right person for the job,” said Ali, a software engineer.
King, chief financial officer for a family-owned engineering firm, sees Ali’s candidacy a bit differently.
“This has been expected since I got it [the Senate seat] in 2007,” King said. “He was unhappy because I got it and he didn’t,” even though she had 16 years in public office and he had less than one.
In 2006, Ali said he paid no attention to King’s campaign until he was elected as one of the Democratic Party’s three House of Delegates nominees. After getting past the primary, Ali said that he and King united on the party’s ticket, but no further. Ali said there are many differences between him and King.
“We are apart on our stances on numerous, numerous issues,” Ali said. “If you look at the party label, we are the same. We are demographically different, stylistically different and our personalities are different.”
Ali said that he wants to close corporate tax loopholes, improve public safety measures to keep his constituents safe, improve the economy and advance the Democratic Party’s ideals.
King agreed that there are a number of policy differences between her and Ali. Her top issue, she said, is education, which is also a priority for Ali.
The bulk of the political, labor and business establishment has lined up behind King, who serves on the Budget and Taxation Committee and who had been the chair of the education subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee. She also chairs the Joint Committee on Children, Youth and Families.
She has been endorsed by Gov. Martin O’Malley, County Executive Ike Leggett and the unions for the firefighters, police and teachers, as well as the Service Employees International Union.
Of the embattled Democratic incumbents in Montgomery County, Senate President Mike Miller said, “Nancy is the most important one of them to Montgomery County.” He said he expanded the Budget and Tax Committee “just to accommodate her” because she didn’t want to be appointed to the Senate unless she could serve on the powerful committee. She told Miller, “I need to be where the education dollars are,” he said.
“She comes out of the education community,” said Jon Gerson, director of community outreach for the Montgomery County Education Association, the teachers union, which had endorsed both King and Ali for delegate four years ago. King understands the needs of the county’s schools, where one-third of the 147,000 children live in poverty, Gerson said, despite Montgomery’s wealth.
Rich Parsons, head of the Montgomery County Business Political Action Committee, said that if King doesn’t return, the county will lose that seat on the budget committee, essential to get the county’s fair share of state dollars for schools and transportation.
Ali has been endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and he worked hard to get the endorsement of Progressive Maryland, a coalition of labor, church and activist groups.
“Del. Ali definitely gets the gold medal for campaigning for our board endorsement,” said Rion Dennis, PM’s acting executive director. His campaign for endorsement probably prevented King from getting the two-thirds vote needed, Dennis said, despite her championing of expanded pre-kindergarten education, a priority for the group.
King said Ali is “an aggressive campaigner,” and she is trying to match his effort, knocking on thousands of doors and meeting constituents. “I will keep going until Sept. 14,” she said.
Ali said that constituents are responding to his message. “I think we’re getting much stronger traction,” he said. “We have more youthful grassroots energy. I’ve found an abundance of motivation from high school and college students.”