Bill Quirk maintained a slim lead in late returns over Jennifer Ong in the race to represent Assembly District 20 in the state Capitol.

Ong is a 42-year-old optometrist and political newcomer who would be the first Filipina to serve in the state Assembly if elected.

Quirk is a 67-year-old retired Lawrence Livermore National Lab scientist.

Either one faces a steep learning curve once in Sacramento, Ong more so than Quirk, who served two terms on the Hayward City Council.

Ong has campaigned on her personal story as a Filipina immigrant whose working-class parents helped her become an optometrist. She counted as her mentors former Assemblywoman and State Supervisor of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, Assemblywoman Fiona Ma and state Sen. Ed Hernandez.

Quirk uses his academic background as a scientist as a selling point, and he has the backing of the biomedical industry, which he defended earlier in the year against a mandatory drug take-back ordinance in Alameda County.

He said he would call on the expertise of State Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Assemblyman John Dutra and state Sen. Ellen Corbett in adjusting to Sacramento and choosing a staff.

Quirk is dedicated to passing Proposition 30, the temporary tax hike, because it would fund schools. Ong wants to close the tax loopholes before raising taxes.

Otherwise, both candidates are Democrats in a heavily Democratic district but see the areas through a slightly different prism.

The area encompasses Hayward, Union City, the northern half of Fremont, as well as Ashland, Castro Valley, Cherryland, San Lorenzo and Sunol.

District 20, Ong said, is a diverse community with great needs as well as great potential and where a multitude of languages are spoken.

That is why she said she edged out three other challengers in the June primary. She took 25.7 percent of the vote in June; Quirk got 30.3 percent.

With twice the number of voters expected to turn out at the polls on Nov. 6, Ong said she expected a boost in the polls from women, Asian Pacific Islanders and small business owners like herself.

The big issues in the district are crime and access to social programs, she said.

When asked how she would tackle the problems if funding were available, she envisioned offering tax incentives to businesses that train ex-felons, single mothers and the disabled. Under her watch, teachers would get money for training and needy school children would get free meals. The food would be grown locally and be funded with programs like CalFresh.

Quirk's years as a scientist also made renewable energy that is reliable and affordable an issue "near and dear to my heart."

Education was a close second for Quirk, who started his political career on the Hayward Highland Elementary School PTA and Hayward PTA Council.

The issues facing District 20 depend on the ZIP code, he said, but rich or poor, the constituents share a concern about education.

When asked to describe how he would confront the problems from an Assembly seat, he suggested protecting public safety dollars, trying to increase funding for education and consolidating overlapping state, county and city agencies.