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For Potomac's Ahmad, One Chance to Give Back

Pakistani immigrant and businessman runs for at-large County Council seat.

Tufail Ahmad is an immigrant who has lived in Montgomery County for 33 years—longer than many American-born residents. He is a very wealthy man whose values have more to do with poverty than wealth.

Ahmad, a Potomac resident running as an at-large Democrat for the Montgomery County Council, grew up in a small village outside Allahabad, India.

“We are very grateful to God almighty that my father was a teacher and he taught us, actually,” said Ahmad, 68. “Every year when we would go — we were seven brothers and sisters — when we would go from one class to the other, he will say, ‘This year’s crop is harvested.’ Because he had no land, no property, nothing. … Every year we were the crop. He harvested it every year.”

AHMAD EXCELLED in school and won scholarships that carried him through university and graduate school in Allahabad.

In 1958 he moved to Pakistan, where he became a citizen and in 1960 joined the civil service as an auditor. He first came to the United States as part of the Pakistani delegation to the United Nations, serving as a staff member to the U.N Board of Auditors.

He moved to the United States permanently in 1973 and has lived in Potomac ever since, running his international shipping company, Euro-American Shipping, which his oldest son took over six years ago.

Ahmad has no aspirations of running for a higher office in the future. He believes that even if it is not successful, his council run will pave the way for future minority candidates.

He believes he can win, but more than that he believes that he owes it to his community to try.

“When I came to this country in 1973 I did not have anything. I have got everything from this county,” Ahmad said last week in his house on Greenbriar Road. “Four years, eight years, whatever active life is left in me, it should be devoted to the county. … Time to pay back whatever I have got. The time has come for me for payback time.”

LIKE MANY political candidates, Ahmad touts a history of community involvement that long precedes his candidacy. He co-founded the Montgomery County Muslim Council, which has established charity programs for people of all faiths. He has sat on the Upcounty Citizens Advisory Board and chaired the District 15 Democratic Caucus.

As a Democratic organizer, Ahmad was a prolific fund-raiser.

“Now the community is saying, ‘Why do you get money for other people, why don’t you go and run for the office yourself? So this was a logical thing to happen,” he said.

Bilal Ayyub first knew Ahmad as a neighbor in the Palatine area of Potomac and later through the Muslim Council and District 15 Democratic circle.

“I never really met anybody who has such a devotion to the community, in a way,” said Ayyub, an engineer and University of Maryland professor. “He puts long, long days and many, many hours, just basically all of it for the benefit and the interest of the community.”

“I think that he’s an alternative that people need to pay attention to,” said Ken Giunta, a North Potomac resident and Ahmad’s campaign treasurer. “He’ll challenge the conventional wisdom which I think is good. Too often we recycle all the [candidates] all the time. I think they content themselves talking to each other.”

Giunta has worked in city politics in Washington, D.C. but said he decided to focus more on politics in the county where he lives. He met Ahmad through their Democratic precinct work, but they were still virtual strangers when Ahmad asked him to take the treasurer position.

“He actually blew me away,” Giunta said. “He’s very smart. And he’s also very practical. He gets the [county] budget every year and he analyzes it.”

WHETHER OR NOT Ahmad can sharpen that spirit of service into a well-honed policy positions and a credible campaign against the at-large incumbents, he isn’t afraid to agitate.

“The issues which the Montgomery County is facing [are] primarily because of the rampant growth which has taken place in Montgomery County in the last few years,” he said. “If go on developing at the speed at which we are doing now, what will happen? …  If we are heading to a society where you have all big houses there and there is nothing for the low-paying jobs, then that is the way you are going to have it. But what will happen? There will be no teachers there.”

Ahmad had sharper words still for Planning Board Chairman Derick Berlage, who Ahmad called “not up to the mark.”

He also praised the Montgomery County Office of Inspector General for its oversight role after it admonished Montgomery County Public Schools for misrepresenting cost data in connection with a Potomac school construction project.

He supports zero-development policy in the Agricultural Reserve but said he is so far undecided about the Intercounty Connector highway project.

His most unusual position, though, is on the at-large County Council seat he is vying to occupy.

He believes the Council should consist of nine district-based members, reducing the need for massive campaign bankrolls and opening the seats to minority candidates.

“It actually hurt me and saddened me the way Mr. Blair Ewing and other people were shunted out and this End Gridlock team came … and all of [the others] were defeated,” Ahmad said. “I want to challenge them and show to them that that is not the way to do it.”

One way he plans to show them is by working as Councilmember full-time if elected:

“No other work for me.”

“I think anyone who meets Tufail warms up to him,” Giunta said. “It’s a crowded field … but I think he’s starting to gain momentum.”