The Citizen 

Pete Stark is like the cool uncle who tosses the ball around with you, talks to you like you are one of the guys and drops a few f-bombs every so often for  comedic effect and slips you a shot of Jack at your sister’s wedding. In the small circle that you know Uncle Pete, he’s the greatest of guys, except when you get older and experience other ideas and perspective, you find good ol’ Uncle Pete isn’t the guy you remember.

It was kind of that way the past couple of days as the East Bay’s beloved politico (at least, in terms of love through the ballot box) was roundly pilloried  this week everywhere media lurked. He was plastered on all the cable news programs. Fox News, especially, was salivating on playing Pete’s “Greatest Hits” on a loop. The “fruitcake” incident and the near bar room brawl he nearly set off a few years ago. How he said President Bush was getting his kicks over getting soliders “heads blown off” and the whole “my urine is too special to waste on you” exchange with a constituent last year.

Every single national article written about Stark’s short ascension to the powerful Ways and Means Committee had the pointed caveat that this man is crazy. It’s not just the media saying it either. House Democrats, through the hasty reorganzation one day later, quickly naming Rep. Sander Levin, (D-Mich.) another pro-union, but less controversial congressman to replace Stark. According to reports, Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee formed a mini revolt against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to follow the mode of seniority by replacing Rep. Charlie Rangel with the next-ranking member Stark.

Who will take over his impressive legislative legacy?…Or is he planning on becoming the House’s version of Sen. Strom Thurmond and slowly crumble before our eyes in a sea of ayes and nays?

The congressman’s poor health of late may have been a concern for Democrats on a procedural level. Stark would have chaired the presitigious tax-writing committee with one of the lowest attendance records in Congress–just under a quarter of the time absent. This fact may not have been very high on the reasons for Stark’s brief 24-hour reign as chair–it was political–but it should greatly concern voters in his district.

Stark’s visible decline in physical health has been chronicled on numerous occasions in The Citizen. There is no doubt the 78-year-old Stark is still sharp as a tack mentally, but in the past six months or more, it has become apparent his “undisclosed illness” is chipping away at his duties as our representative. He walks with a very pronounced limp, which appears to emanate from a hip problem and has difficulty hearing. In addition, missing over a quarter of the roll calls on Capitol Hill should raise alarms whether Stark is able to represent the 10th District for much longer. Make no mistake, though, it is widely known in the area that residents can get problems solved by taking them to Stark’s Fremont office (State Sen. Ellen Corbett’s office also has a good reputation in this area), but Stark needs to begin presenting a basic timetable for the future. Who will take over his impressive legislative legacy? His wife? His son? Will he anoint a worthy local Democrat? Or is he planning on becoming the House’s version of Sen. Strom Thurmond and slowly crumble before our eyes in a sea of ayes and nays?

East Bay voters probably will not be keen on political nepotism by tabbing his wife, although, Alameda County voters will test that when they decide to vote for State Treasurer Bill Lockyer’s wife, Nadia, for supervisor. Waiting for his son to take the reigns would only conjure up Stark’s ethics problems from last month, since Stark the Younger was raised in Maryland and without watching Baywatch, knows very little about California. As for a successor among the current crop of Democrats, it could be a bloodbath fighting for position, but one strong candidate, Corbett, seems intent on chasing a seat on the board of supervisors, instead.

It’s interesting how what should have been one of the defining moments of Stark’s political career quickly gave way to doubts about his future only 24 hours later. The quick change was an insult to his career and only strengthened the knowledge of a litany of bad boy antics spanning decades. Stark is still the cool old uncle to the East Bay, but we’re older now, in a sense, since seeing him through the prism of the entire nation. He needs to start telling us what ails him and what he plans for the near future. The  constant “no comment” from his office to everyone whether they are The New York Times or The Citizen will no longer suffice.

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