The Media’s Effort To Turn Stark’s Plain-Spoken Bluntness Into A Negative

ELECTION’S 12//CONGRESS 15/ANALYSIS | Rep. Pete Stark sat firmly in his seat at Hayward’s City Hall last April as the audience began ambling out the room following the first forum with his young Democratic challenger, Eric Swalwell. Earlier in the hour-long discussion, the irascible Stark had called the well-coiffed, somewhat squat first-term councilman both a “pipsqueak” and a “bush leaguer.” He had also quite infamously charged Swalwell with bribery and failing to vote in California. Both allegations were false, yet rooted in far more truth than certain media personalities would have you believe. Swalwell rose from his seat and offered his hand to the seated Stark, who accepted. From afar, the conversations appeared odd and less-than-cordial. Swalwell quickly and ungracefully wrenched his hand away from Stark and stepped back. His expression registered an odd combination of incredulous fear one might expect from a paddling surfer the moment after a Great White Shark has sunk its teeth into his thigh. A mic, still live before Stark, caught him mid-sentence saying, “…you’re a crook…” Later, witnesses reported Stark called Swalwell, “a fucking crook.”

Eric Swalwell

Seemingly everything Stark now says is labeled a gaffe by a small group of media members in the East Bay who, themselves, possess a noticeably thin skin. When did politics become the stuff of little girl tea parties and exercises in who can be the nicest candidate? This is a campaign for the House of Representatives, not a seat on the San Lorenzo school board, for crissakes! The hidden meaning here is rooted in a very simple observation, particularly in the race for the 15th Congressional District. In a campaign between Stark, an 80-year-old congressman who walks with the aid of a cane and hardly fills out his collared dress shirts and Swalwell, a perfectly fit 31-year-old deputy district attorney, is that the old guy is easily the most manly of candidates–in not just this race, but the entire Bay Area.

How did we get this way? A few weeks before Hayward City Hall forum, Swalwell appeared dazed and intimidated by a group of Hayward Democrats during a similar forum. Without the home-field advantage of the Tri Valley, he was timid and at one point forcefully told the audience he would draw up legislation to micro-tax financial trades. It sounded good, but as Stark pointed out, the legislation already existed and was much ballyhooed in the press. In fact, it was Stark’s bill. Afterwards, Swalwell bolted out the building as he did following a speech a month later at Cal State East Bay.

If Stark is a bully, then Swalwell is the nerdy kid quietly plotting an elaborate scheme for revenge, replete with schematics and neatly planned guidebooks to execute the adventure. Did Swalwell stage the latest blast against Stark’s alleged poor behavior written by the San Francisco Chronicle’s Carla Marinucci, as Stark’s campaign is asserting? According to other media reports, Former Assemblyman Alberto Torrico offered his endorsement to Swalwell. Out of honor, Torrico says he would call Stark to inform him of the bad news. Torrico’s version of the event as told to the Chronicle, indeed, give more than a hint to what he was up to. In turn, according to KGO-TV, Swalwell turned tattle-tale and alerted the media.

Alberto Torrico

It’s no surprise that Stark took a taunting stance and trash-talked Torrico. Marinucci, though, mischaracterized the incident and spun it to appear Stark had “threatened” Torrico’s family. Read the quotes. Telling someone they are crazy and facetiously offering to call help to protect their children is hardly threatening. Of course, unless the subtext of this conversation is, in fact, Torrico has a mental illness he’s not talking about, then it is not threatening, it’s funny. It’s trash talk and it’s what Stark does. Democrats in the East Bay have never complained when he reserves his best rejoinders for House Republicans and President George W. Bush. In fact, complaints of Stark’s alleged abhorrent behavior is a wholly Republican and Tea Party creation.

In the end, the real reason Torrico and a small band of local officials have bolted to endorse Swalwell is really the most interesting story in all of this. Torrico’s righteous indignation, probably brought on by his epiphany in Jesus Christ, is born from the fact he, like Swalwell’s other supporters are in some way or another dissidents recently ostracized from the Democratic Party in the East Bay. In Swalwell, they see the possibility of a path back. If Torrico was in good standing with the party, it is likely he would have applied for the appointment to Nadia Lockyer’s seat on the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. He didn’t since it was well-known Richard Valle has now gained the party’s imprimatur, instead. Others in the East Bay, however, cynically discounted Torrico’s interest on the basis of his well-known predilection towards making money over public service, at least, since the end of his run in the Assembly. Working in the private sector still makes Torrico more than $140,000-a-year working tirelessly on Oak Street.

Stephen Cassidy

Another Swalwell supporter, San Leandro’s Mayor Stephen Cassidy, a vehement enemy of working people in his city, is another case where Mr. Persona Non Grata sees a chance at redemption through Swalwell. Last week, Swalwell said he was proud to have the support of Cassidy on a thread on Facebook initially asserting Cassidy is a closeted Republican. It seemed to be an odd time back up your friend when, in fact, many are beginning to suspect conservative tendencies from Swalwell, as well. Then, of course, there’s former Alameda County Sheriff Charlie Plummer

In the meantime, the East Bay continues to rest in this bizarre bubble of weirdness, graft and arrogance. A brief moment in time when all that has ailed Alameda County has rushed through the body politic all at one in a mad dash through the pores of its skin. The ooze is visible and the stench is sickening. Yet, when it comes to choosing a congressman from this district, those issues do not pertain. Instead, conservative elements want you to talk about the perceived lack of comity from the swashbuckling, elderly man who metaphorically swings his cane as strongly as he did 40 years ago. When Stark, yet again criticized by the thin-skinned media, charged them in Fremont with asking “stupid questions,” he was right. I have yet heard a question from them wondering how either candidate is going to put people back to work.

S.S. Swalwell last month

But, guess what? While most of the 15th Congressional District still languishes in double-digit unemployment, one candidate thought it was wise last month to campaign in one of the symbols of the One Percent—a yacht bobbing in McCovey Cove during a recent San Francisco Giants game. Maybe that plays well in Dublin, but when regular people struggling in Hayward see that, it’s likely they will sound a lot like Stark and say out loud, “That’s fucking horseshit!”

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