In June, University of Maryland alumna Shabnam Ahmed lost the Democratic primary for the Maryland House of Delegates by 42 votes.
“I pretty much thought, at that point, that was it,” she said. “I was ready to accept the outcome.”
But after inspiration from her constituency — many of whom, she said, reached out to her with support and encouragement in the wake of her loss — she decided to run again, this time as a write-in, for Prince George’s County District 23A.
“It was just the dynamics of our district,” she said.
After the election was called, Ahmed was informed that 178 provisional ballots weren’t counted, she said — enforcing her belief that she has the support needed to win. She said she thinks those ballots “would have really swayed the vote by a lot.”
So now, she’s sending out mailers, knocking on doors and talking to voters to let them know she’s back in the race.
“The reason why I ran in the first place was because I felt like we needed more progressive leadership, and I don’t think that our current incumbent, you know, has that.”
Ahmed is challenging incumbent Delegate Geraldine Valentino-Smith, who has held the seat since 2011.
“Candidates can give rhetoric to a platform and sadly often distort information. I put great faith in my actions and my experience,” Valentino-Smith wrote in an email.
Ahmed said her platform is “very progressive in a lot of ways.”
Her priorities include affordable health care, increasing minimum wage, and addressing the opioid crisis.
Born and raised in Prince George’s County, Ahmed served as a student member of the Prince George’s County Board of Education from 2012 to 2013. She has made education one of the main focuses of her campaign.
“Education is like a huge root in our community,” she said. “If we can nurture that, it would benefit the community in many different ways.”
Ahmed said she hopes to improve school infrastructure, boost employee pay and restore power to the school board by working to repeal legislation passed by the current delegate.
In 2013, Valentino-Smith introduced House Bill 1107, which gives the county executive the ability to “appoint three board members, name the board’s chair and vice chair, and name the system’s superintendent, or chief executive officer,” according to The Capital Gazette.
Ahmed said she aims to repeal the legislation.
“The issue is checks and balances,” she said. “If the superintendent is now accountable to the county executive, because the county executive is now choosing them, not the board, then how will they be questionable to the board?”
Ahmed believes that the board should be fully elected by constituents, giving constituents power over who’s on the board and giving the board power about what decisions to make in the school system.
But Valentino-Smith said she supports Monica Goldson — interim chief executive for Prince George’s County Public Schools — and the decisions she’s made on education in the county.
“She has been responsive to teachers and the public and I believe she will make great strides in our County,” Valentino-Smith wrote in an email. “Transparency and accountability are vital in this job for both the CEO and Board Members alike.”
Republican candidate Kathleen Kositzky Crank said that Ahmed is “trying to bring some accountability back to the school board.”
“We have really bad schools,” Crank said. “A lot of people are just scratching their heads looking at the casino raking in multi-millions of dollars down the road, looking at the wealth of our communities and then looking at the ramshackle conditions of our schools.”
Crank said Ahmed’s challenge to Valentino-Smith is “rock[ing] the boat.”
“She’s showing a lot of guts to go against a Democratic establishment, which is not easy to do,” Crank said.
Raaheela Ahmed, Ahmed’s sister and a member of the Prince George’s County Board of Education for District 5, said she thinks her sister can “definitely win.”
“People believe in her. We’re a community that values values,” Raaheela Ahmed said. “Our community values honest, authentic, open leadership. And there’s no one more honest, open and authentic than Shabnam.”