Dublin Councilman Challenges Stark with a Grin and a Swalwell

Sept. 21, 2011 | As the Bay Area continues a decade-long exodus to the valley, the congressional seat occupied by Rep. Pete Stark is slowly moving from the land of latte liberals in the East Bay to that of wine and cheese moderates in the valley.

Eric Swalwell, a 30-year-old Dublin councilman, who was elected to public office just last November announced Wednesday his intention to win the newly-created District 15 long-dominated by Stark. The 79-year-old representative won re-election in 2010 with 70 percent of the vote and has not dipped below that figure since 1980.

The inclusion of Swalwell in the race signals a continuing shift in the demographic of Stark’s district once primarily centered over the decades in Oakland, Alameda, San Leandro, Hayward and Fremont. After the Citizens’ Redistricting Commission tacked on portions of the more moderate Tri-Valley area, many politicos have looked to the east for a possible challenge to Stark’s noted liberal ideology. Some expected Dublin Mayor Tim Sbranti to make the move, but he stood in support of Swalwell during today’s announcement.

Swalwell, who is also an Alameda County deputy district attorney, told the Contra Costa Times he is not running against anybody in particular. He told Pleasanton Weekly: “I am running for the people who want a new voice, new energy and new ideas in a new district,” Swalwell said. “In these tough economic times, I think people want bold action and leadership, so that’s why I am stepping up to the plate.”

Swalwell’s interest in the seat has been known for months and the potentially beneficial outcome of the district’s redrawn lines to include Dublin and Pleasanton only increased its probability. According to sources, Swalwell’s overexuberance irritated Stark’s team. Primarily, a campaign kickoff announcement previously scheduled for around Labor Day.

It is also believed Swalwell was urged by some to explore a run next year for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley’s reconfigured seat. The new District 4 supervisorial seat added Pleasanton this summer during county redistricting. The opening for any candidate for that seat from the Tri-Valley is similar to the demographic scenario with Stark’s congressional seat. Like Stark, who traded a favorable area in Fremont for Dublin and Pleasanton, Miley lost parts of his base in Oakland for Pleasanton where is virtually unknown.

Although many insiders believe Stark’s new district present difficulties dealing with demographics and less liberal tendencies emanating from the Tri-Valley, they believe, at least in 2012, the chances of an upset in the June 5 primary is highly unlikely. It is worth noting, the June primary will be the first to employ the successful state referendum passed last year that will pit the top two winners of the primary, regardless of party, in the general election. One long-time East Bay consultant said the new system is going to put anyone at a disadvantage against Stark. The reasoning being an insurgent underdog candidate would likely have to beat Stark twice in any given campaign cycle.

Nonetheless, many say Swalwell appears polished for his relative inexperience. His main accomplishment during his first eight months in office, though, according to his web site, was adding his city to the Livermore Valley Wine Region.