Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ali-King Debate Negotiations Break Down

The first debate between Senator Nancy King (D-39) and her primary opponent, Delegate Saqib Ali, on Political Pulse may be their last. Negotiations between the two campaigns on further debates have broken down amid significant acrimony.

The debate over debates has been a significant part of the District 39 Senate race even before it was a race. Ali called for an online debate with King as far back as last summer, long before he launched his primary challenge. Right after his challenge announcement, Ali called her out again. King replied on April 28:

I welcome the chance to debate. I am proud of my lifelong service to our community and my track record of championing our public schools and protecting our community’s families. I look forward to the opportunity to confront your repeated distortions of my record in open public forums.

Your press release was not specific about your challenge, so I am offering my own. In addition to the candidate forums hosted by community organizations in our district, let’s hold three debates this summer – one in June, one in July and one in August. Each debate will be hosted by a neutral moderator and will be open to the general public.
Three days later, MCDCC Member, Washington Grove Mayor and District 39 resident Darrell Anderson volunteered to coordinate debate arrangements between the two campaigns. On May 21, Anderson suggested a series of dates for the North Creek Community Center, the Germantown Community Center, the Germantown Upcounty Regional Center and the Upper County Community Center in the three months. On May 31, Ali indicated that he would be available for any of those dates. But Anderson wrote Ali’s campaign manager, Ben Shnider, the following email:

On Mon, May 31, 2010 at 6:06 PM, [Darrell Anderson] wrote:


I have talked with Nancy and she indicated that the three candidate fora are already set up. Maybe you should have someone talk with her campaign about this. At this point, I have not scheduled anything because I was waiting to hear from both candidates about the dates I sent. Let me know if I can do anything else for this.

Shnider replied:

Sent: Monday, May 31, 2010 6:51:20 PM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern
Subject: Re: Hi, Darrell. Thanks again for volunteering to coordinate debates.


Thanks again for your work on this matter.

Unfortunately Senator King is not being truthful. No other fora have been coordinated. You are the only individual who had been coordinating with both campaigns to arrange the debates. It seemed as though she had acknowledged as much from your previous emails, when you stated "I have talked with Nancy and she is agreeable to MV and Germantown."

Of course, we are grateful for your honest effort to organize these fora. However, the fact that three debates have already been scheduled is news to us. Did Senator King provide you with any details about these allegedly organized events?

Again, I am sorry you seem to be caught in the middle of this situation. We are just anxious to provide the voters of District 39 with additional opportunities to see where both candidates stand on the issues and are disappointed that Senator King seems to be lying in an attempt to avoid this honest debate.

Thanks again for everything. Please just let us know any details she mentioned about these arrangements as soon as you get a chance so that we can ensure the voters get the three debates that were agreed upon.

Ali protested directly to King. The following email contains a typo, substituting “XXX” for what should have been “April 28.” Whether the miscommunication itself or the XXX term is a more appropriate metaphor for the campaign is a judgment we leave to MPW readers.

In a message dated 6/1/2010 1:05:32 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time, delegate@saqibali.org writes:

Nancy, Hi.

Thanks for this communication. I'm sorry that so much static has arisen over this issue. Hopefully we can straighten this out. :)

I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds here, but I'm concerned when I hear that you have taken it upon yourself (without consultation with me) the venues and the organizations that will hold these debates. My concern arises for the following reasons:

Apparently you have sought to setup fora without consultation with me or my campaign. This seems strange and is unacceptable.

If you or I are responsible for arranging the debates in anyway, there is simply a lack of credibility. In your XXX email to me, you affirmed that we should seek an honest and neutral moderator. It would seem difficult to do so if you (or I) was responsible for choosing the venue/format. For example, many leading members of the GG Chamber of Commerce are donors to your campaign but not mine. So I would say that this could not be considered a "neutral" setting at all.

In your XXX email to me you specifically suggested 3 direct debates with me. Now you seem to be suggesting "Candidate Forums" which are vaguely defined and of unknown format. This concerns me because it seems to be backtracking from your original proposal.

Darrell Anderson is a respected, trusted and neutral third party in District 39. He has donated to both your campaign as well as mine. He has located multiple available venues and time-slots shown below. I am amenable to any of these slots. I would request that you please choose a June time-slot and a July time-slot from the list below. Let us agree now to those two slots and pick the final debate slot (in August) later. Does that work for you?

North Creek Community Center (Montgomery Village)

June 16, 17, 24
July 22, 29
August 5, 12, 19

Germantown Community Center

June 20, 3pm
July 18, 25, 3pm
August 1, 8, 15, 3pm

Warmest Regards.
- Saqib
Anderson smelled trouble and bowed out of the negotiations. King asked Ali’s campaign manager, Ben Shnider, to negotiate directly with her campaign manager, Amy Hartman. Round Two of the negotiations began on June 1 and soon went downhill. King wanted to have community organizations sponsor the debates. Ali wanted three debates in addition to those held by community organizations, which was consistent with King’s original position. The two campaigns also disagreed on the size of the venue, with Ali wanting debate halls allowing hundreds to attend while King thought venues allowing 50-60 people would be sufficient. King also wanted to do a mailer alerting nearby residents to any debates. The two campaign managers exchanged emails.

Hartman (King’s manager) wrote Shnider:

On Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 2:15 PM, [amy@friendsofnancyking.com] wrote:


Thanks for your patience. I've been having some phone and email problems (related) over the last day and appreciate your patience.

I'm glad we are on the same page when it comes to the urgency of these forums, however, we would like to make certain that in our rush to have these debates, we do not skip over core agreements, and find ourselves floundering and unable to come to an agreement 2 days before the debate. Before we lock down a location, we should have a written agreement, signed by both campaigns regarding format, rules etc. While many campaign debates throughout this country have had cumbersome agreements parsing everything from moderator to whether podiums are allowed to the temperature of the room and what type of chairs will be used, we are looking for a basic agreement on the standards of the debate.

Concerning your proposals, frankly, I feel we are at two different places. As serious campaigns, we should have a serious debate, and we would therefore like to propose the following:

1) A one hour format with an hour of questions from the moderator.

2) Because we are having 3 self-prepared debates, we should split topics throughout the three debates to guarantee a focus on the policy issues and not get bogged down in politics. For the first debate, we would proposed Education, the Environment and Job Creation as the three issues. Both candidates will have a three minute opening statement and closing statement. The moderator should make sure to ask the same question of both candidates with a 2 minute response time each. The campaigns will agree on 12 questions to submit to the moderator and the moderator will choose six of these question so our candidates can have a substantive conversation about the issues and avoid gotcha politics.

3) Moderator - We would find Darrell to be an acceptable moderator.

4) As you know from our previous emails, we are ready to split the costs for a mailer. We can take the charge in creating this postcard which would obviously have to have the approval of both campaigns before sending it out.

5) Venue - We are misunderstanding why we need a venue to fit hundreds of people. While both of our campaigns can obviously stuff the room with our supporters, this debate is for the people of the district and these specific neighborhoods and a location fitting 50-60 people is fine with us, and should do fine. If this debate is packed with area residents, we would obviously reconsider that stance for the future. If your campaign feels a need to have a larger venue, that is a cost we are not prepared to split.

While it would be helpful to agree on this for all three debates now, we know that time is of the essence and are fine waiting until after we have this debate set up before we discuss the next one. Please let us know your thoughts on this proposal, as we are all eager to have a thoughtful and constructive debate for the voters of District 39.

Shnider (Ali’s manager) wrote back:

From: Ben Shnider [delegate@saqibali.org]
Date: Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 3:36 PM
Subject: Re: Debate Location Update
To: amy@friendsofnancyking.com


I understand if you have had issues with your email/cell phone. However, Senator King has been CC'd on all of these emails to ensure that your campaign was informed of our position on these matters. It is now June 11th, and we have been holding a location (which previously seemed to be an agreeable one to Senator King) for a debate on the 28th. It is unfortunate that your campaign has been dragging its feet instead of moving rapidly to provide the people of District 39 with the debate they deserve.

Furthermore, we find it puzzling that you insist upon the unprecedented precondition of investing in a mailer to surrounding precincts to advertise this debate, presumably to ensure that Democratic voters are "fully aware of the debate," but are unwilling to invest in a space that will accomodate these voters. Frankly, this blatant contradiction seems to indicate that your campaign is looking for logistical obstacles to drag this planning process out. In addition, we find it unfortunate that Senator King wishes to limit the number of voters who will have access to this forum.

Having said all of that, if Senator King is still unwilling to invest in a larger venue, we are willing to hold this debate in a smaller space (if it is still available). Additionally, we are willing to accomodate all of your proposals regarding the format of the debate. Delegate Ali will talk about any issues any time anywhere that are of relevance to District 39, regardless of format.

However, if we are truly going to hold this debate in two weeks we need to sign off on these terms this weekend. We are not trying to "rush" into anything. We have been working hard to cooperate with your campaign for months, first through Darrell Anderson and then (after Senator King unilaterally abandoned that process) directly. If your campaign is serious about having this debate, let's get these terms on paper and signed off on this weekend.

Thank you,

And Ali objected to the notion of pre-scripted questions.

From: Delegate Saqib Ali
Date: Fri, Jun 11, 2010 at 6:04 PM
Subject: Re: Debate Location Update
To: amy@friendsofnancyking.com
Cc: Nancy King, Darrell Anderson

Amy, Is Nancy's participation in the debate now conditioned on having 'pre-approved questions'?

Please let us know immediately.

- Saqib
That prompted Hartman to cut off negotiations.

On Sat, Jun 12, 2010 at 8:45 PM, [amy@friendsofnancyking.com] wrote:

Dear Delegate Ali,

At the outset of this exchange, I indicated our campaign’s preference to participate in debates organized by community organizations in the 39th legislative district. We preferred debates organized by community organizations as a way to avoid a situation where our campaigns could not agree on simple matters like the rules and format for a debate.

Based on your campaign manager’s interpretation of our debate challenge, he argued that our challenge was for three debates in addition to community forums. I chose not to argue with him because our campaign is committed to engaging in a constructive discussion of the issues facing our state, and I thought it would be counterproductive to engage in a debate about debates.

Over the past several days, your campaign manager and I have engaged in a negotiation about the time, location, rules, format and moderator for a debate to be held later this month.

In my last email, I staked out an aggressive negotiating position, with the expectation that your campaign manager would counter, and we would reach a workable compromise. To my surprise, your campaign manager accepted the terms and expressed his desire to move forward quickly.

My surprise was compounded when I received the email you sent after your campaign manager, questioning and undermining the entire negotiation. Our campaign believed it was negotiating in good faith about the rules and format for the debate. Based on how your campaign manager represented himself, I believed he was authorized to conduct that negotiation. Your email threw that into doubt.

I do not know whether your campaign manager acted without your authorization, or whether the negotiation was designed solely to reach a point where you could accuse our campaign of being uncooperative. I know that regardless of your motivation, your campaign is not negotiating in good faith.

Our campaign will not negotiate in bad faith. Therefore, we consider this negotiation over. Our candidate is prepared to debate the issues facing our state, but our campaign is not willing to negotiate with your campaign with regard to the time, location, rules, format and moderator for debates.

We find ourselves back where we began. We look forward to participating in debates hosted by established community organizations in the 39th legislative district. I regret that our exchange has grown acrimonious – but given the contrary messages delivered by your campaign manager and you, it is clear that this negotiation is a waste of time for all parties involved.

We look forward to continuing a productive conversation at the first community organization sponsored debate.

Amy Hartman
So while Ali and King may attend debates scheduled by civic organizations, they seem unlikely to agree to hold another one on their own. And if they were ever inclined to reconcile, the release of their private emails to an irresponsible blogger seems likely to kill any possibility of cooperation!