Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark may be feeling the heat in the primary challenge from Dublin City Councilman Eric Swalwell in the newly drawn district lines for the 15th Congressional District that includes the Livermore Valley as well as most of Alameda County south of San Leandro.
Stark spouted off at a recent League of Women Voters debate and accused Swalwell of corruption by taking “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” from developers, according to a report by the Bay Area News Group. He specified the Lin family, which owned and has developed much of east Dublin before selling parcels to home builders.
The 40-year member of Congress offered no documentation for his charge and refused to comment further or apologize until Swalwell engaged a major law firm specializing in defamation suits.
That prompted an admission from Stark that he “mis-spoke”, a remarkably charitable spin that Stark, through a campaign spokesman, then spun back to accuse Swalwell of being a reliable vote for developers.
The tirade may be an indication that Swalwell’s upstart campaign is gaining enough momentum to warrant the curmudgeonly Stark taking him seriously. Stark has owned the seat in the heavily Democratic district for decades despite rarely showing up on the home front (he lives with his second family in Maryland).
Since winning election four decades ago, Stark has rarely faced any serious opposition. He faced a spirited challenge from Republican Bill Kennedy in back-to-back elections early in his career, but since then he cruised to re-election with registration so heavily Democratic that the Republican Party would not waste money fielding a quality opponent.
That type of comfortable district leads to the arrogance and being out of touch with constituents that Swalwell is using as the cornerstone of his campaign.
The clout that Stark has with party insiders was demonstrated in the redistricting that was done by a citizen’s commission. He ended up in the 15th along with fellow Democrat and incumbent, Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton. McNerney decided to run in the 13th District, which includes Stockton and other Central Valley communities instead of tangling with Stark in the primary.
It’s also notable that when the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives and Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel had to resign in an ethics scandal, fellow Democrats bypassed Stark, who had the seniority, for the chairmanship.
Stark surprised some observers when he ran again this year and ambitious politicians already are lining up to run in 2014 when he has indicated he will retire. Among those in the queue is termed-out Pleasanton Mayor Jennifer Hosterman.
Come June 5, it will be interesting to see how both fare—particularly with the new open primary rules that allow the top two vote-getters, regardless of party, to compete in the fall general election. The third person in the race is Chris Pareja, a Hayward businessman who is a conservative.