Former Del. Saqib Ali is trying to regain a seat in the House of Delegates in District 15. He previously represented District 39 but left after one term to run unsuccessfully for Senate in 2010. This year, Ali’s well-funded campaign has been roiled by severe domestic problems.
Ali’s wife filed a petition for protection from domestic violence on May 24th. This was dismissed with the agreed upon condition that Saqib Ali attend anger management:
Mr. Ali will be evaluated by Dr. Fred Oeltjen with Maryland Counseling Center for anger management. Mr. Ali will complete anger management. The anger management program shall be recommended by Dr. Fred Oeltjen.
However, matters did not resolve. In a preliminary divorce complaint, Ms. Ali alleged:
On June 22, 2022, upon return to the marital home he once again became violent toward the parties’ older minor child, necessitating the Plaintiff [Ms. Ali] and the minor child to flee the marital home. On June 24, 2022, Plaintiff filed another Petition from Domestic Violence in the Circuit Court of Montgomery County on behalf of the minor child.
Defendant’s [Saqib Ali’s] ongoing abusive behavior toward Plaintiff and the minor children cause Plaintiff to have grave concerns over the mental stability of Defendant and his ability to be an effective and safe parent of the parties’ minor children.
Saqib Ali denied the allegations and tried to spin this as something that “sadly, a lot of people have been through” as part of a divorce. In texts available in public documents, he went further, essentially claiming that his wife is an unfit parent and a danger to at least one of his children.
Except that not only has he consented to anger management training, he also agreed on July 1 to give up custody of his kids for a full year as part of a consent final protective order:
Petitioner is awarded interim physical and legal custody of the minor children.
Respondent shall have non-overnight access with the children as agreed upon by the parties.
[T]his Order shall stay in full force and effect for one (1) year or until further Order of Court or written agreement of the parties.
This agreement makes me doubt Saqib Ali’s claims. Parents who genuinely believe that the other parent is unfit and a danger to their kids don’t normally give up custody but fight to keep them, as his wife did. Even a parent who believes the other parent is capable usually shares custody. Instead, he has given up not just custody but also the right to overnight visits. You do the math.
This is a good day for Seventh State, MoCo political junkies, and anyone who loves a great fight. That’s because one of the all-time cage-shakers of MoCo politics from a decade ago has returned to run for office again.
For the next two years, Saqib and Nancy King co-existed uneasily. No matter what King did, Saqib went to her left and noisily announced it – especially when the two diverged on slots. In 2009, Saqib even published a four-part blog series analyzing how much more progressive he was than King on marriage equality, tax policy and alcohol.
But Saqib wasn’t just an attack dog – he mixed in repeated doses of social media comedy to delight his fans. Saqib was one of the earliest and most effective users of Facebook in MoCo politics. He often rewarded articles published about him – including ones that were not particularly nice – with lots of promotion and trackable eyeballs. I certainly noticed! I called him “Facebook’s favorite Delegate” and wrote, “If Ali changed his pajama color, it would go public.” No freshman politician in all of MoCo got more online attention than Saqib Ali.
In April 2010, Saqib pulled the trigger and did what everyone expected him to do: he announced he was running against Nancy King. What followed was one of the wildest primaries in MoCo political history. King was supported by the teachers, the Washington Post, the Gazette, SEIU, the AFL-CIO, the fire fighters, the police, NARAL, the realtors and virtually the entire Annapolis establishment. Saqib was supported by MCGEO, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and Casa in Action. Both candidates had tons of money. King had backup from Mike Miller’s team. Saqib’s campaign manager was Ben Shnider, who would go on to wage an improbable but almost successful challenge to Montgomery County Council Member Sidney Katz eight years later.
The dominant feature of the 2010 District 39 Senate race was the ruthless, bloody-fisted negative campaigning waged by both sides. This was one of the nastiest political wars of all time. Saqib depicted King as a tool of corporate bosses in the alcohol and gambling industries as well as political bosses in Annapolis (especially Miller). King depicted Saqib as a lazy fool who accomplished nothing and slept on the job at the statehouse. King even coined a nickname for her opponent – “Sleepy Saqib” – that was featured prominently in an attack website as well as her mail.
There is nothing particularly objectionable about District 15’s current legislators. Senator Brian Feldman is one of MoCo’s top go-to people in Annapolis. Delegate Kathleen Dumais has been a vice chair of two House committees and was once parliamentarian. Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo was a leader in the effort to ban fracking in 2017 and freshman Delegate Lily Qi is a prominent voice for economic development. Together, they’re a solid crew and have little in the way of obvious weakness.
But for better or worse, none of them are Saqib.
Having watched Saqib up close ten years ago, his playbook is easy to understand. He will blast the incumbents for any tough budget votes they have to cast next year. He will go to their left on every issue imaginable. He will be all over social media. He will have more than enough money to compete. And most of all, he will bring enormous energy to the campaign. Whatever else he is, Saqib is a hard worker who concedes nothing to incumbents. He may or may not win, but if he is the same Saqib he was in 2010, he will make the incumbents work harder than they ever have in a political race to survive.
None of the four incumbent Democrats that represent District 39 in the General Assembly face opposition–a surprising change from four years ago and not what many expected.
Sen. Nancy King faced fierce competition from Del. Saqib Ali in 2010. Not too long after the 2006 election, Sen. P.J. Hogan stepped down and the MCDCC chose then Del. King, who had won two terms and also served on the Board of Education, for the seat over newly elected Del. Ali.
Ali dogged King relentlessly for the rest of the term, continually attacking her as insufficiently progressive. The 2010 primary was rough with Sleepy Saqib pictures that Ali had posted on his Facebook page appearing in King’s mailers. (Kids, there is a life lesson here.) Ali ran a very strong campaign but The Rumble in Germantown ended with King taking the nomination by 248 votes.
But not so surprising. Senate President Mike Miller has zero desire to see Saqib in the Senate. And Ali’s aggressive style in the General Assembly did not win him friends among his colleagues, though it was nearly enough to propel him into the Senate.
Ali could have established residency in the new D39 but committed to D15 when he sought the delegate vacancy last year caused by Del. Brian Feldman’s appointment to the Senate. Ali entered the delegate election in D15 but pulled out in December.
King and Del. Charles Barkley have especially robust campaign accounts–Barkley has 92K compared to 91K for King. Del. Kirill Reznik has a healthy 43K with 26K in Del. Shane Robinson’s account. I guess Reznik needs to serve more expensive hamburgers at his annual Grill with Kirill event. Or maybe Del. Barkley can take him to school.
An enjoyable election season for the incumbents in District 39–but not for those watching elections.