Mar. 15, 2012 | As Rep. Pete Stark stood before the Tri Valley Democratic Club in Dublin last month he looked as healthy as he has at anytime in the past two years. The timbre in his voice was strong and his exuberance in gaining the club’s endorsement over challenger Eric Swalwell recalled an earlier time in his congressional career.
A long bout with Pneumonia in 2010 sapped his energy to such an extent that only until recently has he, at least, looks like the Pete of old. But, that’s not what many less connected observers are noticing.
“He looked like shit,” recounted an audience member at the Feb. 20 endorsement meeting which Swalwell, in his hometown, won. It seems Stark has a major perception problem and has nothing to do with his politics, but the various and natural stages of his health.
A similar consensus regarding his health first appeared around the November 2010 election. At a Democratic Party election night party in San Leandro, Stark arrived, looking severely bloated. Many attribute the condition stemming from medications for pneumonia. Upon shuffling out of the party, numerous party faithful remarked negatively about Stark’s appearance. In truth, the congressman’s health at the time was a cause for concern. It had also affected his ability to participate in a large number of votes on Capitol Hill. It’s a fact Swalwell is attempting to use to show Stark’s worthiness for continuing to hold the seat he has possessed since Reggie Jackson and Catfish Hunter were winning the second of three World Series titles in Oakland circa 1973.
For the casual observer, Stark’s transformation over the past two years has been, well, stark, but for those who have consistently attended monthly town hall meetings around the district over the same period, his health has greatly improved. The perception of Stark’s overall health declining versus the relative improvement over the past few months could be a significant problem as voters mentally place the 80-year-old walking with a cane opposite his two youthful challengers, Swalwell and Chris Pareja.
However, the power brokers in the East Bay so far unwilling to shift their bets on the race to Swalwell belong to the camp kept well abreast of Stark’s return to health and, for now, that’s all that matters. And although Stark couldn’t beat Swalwell in any known Track and Field event, he still has a sense of humor when it comes to his age. When I remarked to Stark that his performance Feb. 20 showed a renewed vigor and passion not seen in a few years, he replied, “We’ll, you haven’t been looking in the right places.” He should hope his constituents have also been looking in those same places.