Stark Shake Up: Cornu In, Tourk Out

ELECTION ’12//CONGRESS 15 | When an entrenched congressman suffers a precipitous drop in primary support never before seen in his 40 years on Capitol Hill, you might expect heads to roll. Rep. Pete Stark has fired his campaign manager Alex Tourk and replaced him with local union stalwart Sharon Cornu, the Bay Area News Group reported Monday.

Cornu, 53, is well known in Alameda County labor circles after leading the Alameda Labor Council for nearly a decade. She signed on as an advisor for Oakland Mayor Jean Quan before resigning last November in the aftermath of the city’s handling of the Occupy Oakland movement. As Josh Richman notes, the composition of Stark’s new re-election team has a decided labor flavor to it.

In recent weeks, several union officials in the East Bay have told The Citizen, one of the best ways to break Dublin Councilman Eric Swalwell’s lock on the Tri Valley is through the labor movement. How that will be accomplished is unclear. On a lunch break from campaigning in Castro Valley Sunday, Swalwell said election maps showed his upstart campaign finished first in Dublin, Pleasanton, San Ramon and Castro Valley–basically, most of the redrawn 15th congressional district’s newest areas.

Cornu also told the Bay Area News Group, Tourk and Stark have amicably parted ways. In hindsight, the tragic political theater and rash of flubs from Stark, along with his campaign’s chronic inability to stanch the wounds were very much the hallmarks of Tourk’s recent controversial past.

As one of former San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom’s top aides, Tourk is most infamous for resigning after it was revealed Newson was having an affair with his wife. More conventional controversies have followed Tourk in recent years, including the resignation from two San Francisco mayoral campaigns and an incident last year when he and his consulting firm were accused of violating rules involving unethical conduct by lobbyists.

The collection of alleged wrongdoing by Tourk in the past begs the question of why Stark tabbed an outsider to run a re-election campaign where even local consultants had conflicting opinions over how the Tri Valley’s significant inclusion to the district would play out. Yet, as one local consultant said of Stark’s errors recently, you can’t totally control the candidate and it is still not clear whether Stark went over the rails on his own by charging Swalwell with bribery, failing to vote and implicating the San Francisco Chronicle’s Debra Saunders in a conspiracy to aid his challenger.

However, Stark told The Citizen about a “sweetheart deal” alleged to be given by Swalwell to the powerful Tri Valley developer Charter Properties two months before his infamous outburst at a forum in Hayward alleging bribery. In spite of a growing amount of circumstantial evidence, at worst, supporting the claim, Stark offered the charge without preparing a shred of evidence. The fallout from the Hayward forum and inaction by Tourk in its aftermath went a long way in helping Swalwell come within six points of the incumbent congressman last June.