Pete Stark ‘answers the tough questions.’ Sort of.

Rep. Pete Stark, facing one of the toughest electoral challenges of his 40-year House career, is launching a video series called “Answering the Tough Questions.” The first one, “Why do you have a reputation for having a sharp tongue?”, rolls out today:

This seems to raise more questions than it answers.

It’s not Stark’s “sharp tongue” that 15th Congressional District voters, and national pundits, have been buzzing about this year – it was his series of outlandish, unfounded allegations that later had to be retracted. To recap:

    April 10: At a candidates’ forum in Hayward, Stark says that Swalwell accepted “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” from Dublin-area developers, and that Swalwell has a spotty voting record.
    April 18: Stark issues a statement apologizing for having “misspoke” in making the April 10 allegations, but voicing “concerns about my opponent’s behavior” including Swalwell’s votes for projects “by developers who have been raided by the FBI” and “have plead guilty to destroying natural habitats.”
    May 1: At a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting, Stark accuses a columnist of having contributed to Swalwell’s campaign; pressed for evidence, he flips through a folder of information he said was compiled by his 16-year-old son, finds nothing to back his claim, and apologizes. In the same meeting, he confuses defunct Fremont solar manufacturer Solyndra with electric-car manufacturer Tesla.
    May 3: At a Bay Area News Group editorial board meeting, Stark acknowledges he lacked evidence to back his April 18 claims: “I’ll concede to that, apologize for it, and let’s get back to issues.”

I asked Sharon Cornu, Stark’s campaign manager, about this today.

“The video is Pete answering the tough questions, the fair questions that have been raised, and communicating with voters the way he has through his town hall meetings over the years,” she replied. “We’re past the distraction part of the campaign, and it’s time to look at the issues that really matter.”

I also asked her whether “answering the tough questions” begs the question of why Stark won’t hold any public debates this general-election season with challenger Eric Swalwell, a Dublin councilman, Alameda County prosecutor and fellow Democrat.

“Put a fork in it, it’s done – we’ve had debates. Now’s the time to be talking with voters, not with the small number of people who attend debates,” Cornu said today. “This campaign is really about the direction of the country, this campaign is about President Obama and Mitt Romney, this campaign is about Social Security, Medicare and implementing the Affordable Care Act, and Pete Stark has the experience to represent the district.”

At a July event in Union City, Stark had grown angry as reporters asked whether his age is an issue in this race; asked why he won’t debate Swalwell, Stark replied it’s because “we’d only get stupid questions like you’re asking that have nothing to do with issues.”

There’s that sharp tongue again.

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.

  • GV Haste

    “Answering the tough questions” (Take 17…rolling)

    Uh, actual speaking time, 54 seconds.

    Did I miss it, did someone actually ask Pete any question, let alone a “tough question”?

    Labor Day to election day, is 64 days. Is that it for Pete facing the voters? 54 seconds?

    Does Sharon Cornu really think the voters are so stupid to believe her absurd answer, “We’re past the distraction part of the campaign”
    No Sharon, Pete being afraid to speak in public IS part of the “distraction”. The longer he is seen hiding from the voters, the bigger that “distraction” becomes.
    Namely, “what is wrong with Pete”.

    You know, sometimes you’re better off saying nothing, rather than putting out a practiced 54 seconds, which begs the question. “Why won’t Pete Stark appear in public?”

  • Elwood

    If only Petey bird’s brain were as sharp as his tongue!

  • Truthclubber

    It’s obvious that he is R-E-A-D-I-N-G his answers as demonstrated by the flub about “walk” vs “work” early in the video.

    Guess they couldn’t afford one of those “teleprompter over the camera” devices that would allow him to actually L-O-O-K into the camera, instead of off to the side where the large printed material is there for him to R-E-A-D.

  • GV Haste

    Say what you want about this campaign ad, you’ve simply got to love the wonderful infomercial music at the begining and end.

    Sad, that he is reduced to running scripted apologies instead of appearing in public to reassure the public he can still hold his own.

  • JohnW

    Until watching the video, I didn’t realize that he authored the COBRA law that gives people who leave a job (voluntarily or otherwise) to continue health insurance coverage under the employer’s plan (at the employee’s own expense) for up to 18 months (longer in California).

    That’s been a real life saver for millions of people who found themselves between jobs, who were able to continue coverage without worrying about being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions.

    His tape claims he authored this. Makes sense given his long-time membership on the House Ways & Means subcommittee on Health. I can’t find anything online to confirm it. But it was a major legislative accomplishment if he was responsible for it.

  • GV Haste

    JohnW, Yes, a very important piece of legislation and Pete did have a hand in it.

    JohnW, that was passed in 1985, over 27 years ago.
    You don’t keep a guy in office forever just because he did something great 27 years ago. At some point even good legislators are over the hill.

    Pete is over the hill. Otherwise he’d be capable of appearing in public instead of being hidden by his campaign manager.

  • JohnW

    GV Haste,

    Yes, it was a score and seven years ago. I just thought it was interesting.

    There are many people who spend long careers in Congress and don’t have any meaningful legislation to show for it. For example, Paul Ryan’s legislative accomplishments consist of naming a post office for Les Aspin and a tax break for makers of hunting arrow tips.

    It will be interesting to see how the Stark/Swalwell race turns out.

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Pete used to be more ladylike. But we should be grateful for his work on the transcontinental railroad system.

  • moderatevoter

    It made absolutely no sense for 81 year old Pete Stark to run in the 15th district. Stark is clearly showing sign of senility, he’s become cranky, combative, and is prone to these terrible temper tantrums. I mean this guy no longer can handle the job as Congressman, people can readily see this.
    I don’t know what Nancy Pelosi was thinking when she decided to run Stark in the 15th. Voter’s got rid of these gerrymandered districts by creating a citizens commission to redraw the districts, voters were looking for some change in our state’s Congressional representation, yet Pelosi’s answer for the 15th district was doddering Pete Stark, a 40 year incumbent who is so far over-the-hill he is being compared to Mr. McGhoo.
    Stark’s entire campaign for the 15th has been embarrassing, one ridiculous gaffe after another. Stark appears confused and befuddled in public, he’s unable to recognize major employers, he’s called local chamber of commerces radical right wing orginizations, and Stark has actually made threats agaisn’t local leaders who are backing Erik Swalwell, like respected former legislator Albert Torrico.
    Apparently Pete Stark’s handlers – like Sharon Cornu- fear another “eruption” by Stark, and they have come up with this bizzare plan to just send out video’s of Stark reading prepared campaign statements. I mean in all my years of watching Congressional campaigns I’ve never seen anything this ridiculous.

  • Hold on a sec
  • Elwood

    @ #10

    I’ve heard that Swalwell once swatted his dog with a folded newspaper!

    See also: Obama, Barack and Rezko, Tony


    My, the Petey bird fans are really desperate, aren’t they?

  • JohnW


    If you’re in love with somebody, you should show it by properly spelling his or her name. It’s Eric, not “Erik.”

  • Truthclubber

    I just got the latest “squeal appeal” from Smellwell begging for moola, and it is VERY telling:

    Dear Truthclubber,

    This morning’s Wall Street Journal asks “Can a Young Democrat Liberate America from Pete Stark?”

    The answer to that question depends on what you do next.

    Thank you for all you have done so far. Your generous contributions of both time and support are what has gotten us this far.

    Tomorrow, Sunday, September 30 we have a very important financial deadline. A strong showing on this fundraising report will be exactly what we need to win.

    Your gift of $200, $100 or whatever amount you feel comfortable with will make a real difference to the campaign.

    We appreciate your continued support of the campaign. Your energy will take us over the finish line!

    Thanks again,

    Eric (as in AmERICa)

    He touts Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal in a fundraising appeal, and still wants people to think he’s a Democrat and not merely a DINO, not “The Tauscherian Candidate”, not simply a tool of the corporate interests that fared so well under Queen Ellen?

    I note that lawn signs for him appear most frequently on lawns where people have cars with Romney bumper stickers on them…

    Where I went to college, we had a phrase for such folks as Smellwell:

    “Greatest legend in his own M-I-N-D.”

  • RR, Senile Columnist

    Stark, your tenure is ending. You have sat too long for any good you are doing. Go, in the Name of God, go!

  • JohnW

    When Eric of Dublin becomes Congressman Swalwell, it will be interesting to see if party leadership forgives all and embraces him or gives him the cold shoulder in terms of committee assignments and campaign re-election funds.

  • GV Haste

    Pete Stark still sees himself as a “maverick”.

    He is determined to prove that old slogan wrong.
    You know, “You can run, but you can’t hide”.

    Well ‘Pete is running, and he is hiding’….

    Looks like that’s the plan for the next 5 weeks.

  • moderatevoter

    #15 If Swalwell beats Stark I don’t think they will be shedding many tears in the NorCal Congressional delegation. Stark is not popular with other members, at age 81 he’s become very difficult to deal with, very cantankerous. Moreover, he has become so old now he can barely work more than a two hour day, that’s not good for 15th district constituents, or the NorCal delegation in general. Congress is a work place, there’s a ton of stuff to do, but Pete Stark is lazy and has been semi-retired really for at least a decade. Stark’s not pulling his load in Washington, he’s an aging prima donna that’s way,way over-the-hill to the point where he has become a drain on the NorCal delegation. You can’t even rely on Stark to show up to vote, he missed 30% of votes in last session. Additionally, you can surmise the entire NorCal Democratic delegation has been cringing at Stark’s antics in this campaign, the other members are aware voters brought in open primaries and dumped these gerrymandered districts – for the express purpose of getting rid of under-performing members like Pete Stark. Stark has become a sort of a symbol that Nancy Pelosi is not listening to voters – voters wanted some new members in Congress – people with some new ideas – fresh ways at looking at things – but Pelosi opted instead to back this 70’s era relic in the 15th district. Stark is so 70’s you really need to fit this guy with a lesiure suit and play Carpenters records when he campaigns.
    One of the reasons I think other Nor/Cal members won’t be shaken up if Swalwell beats Stark is because he’s really going to be doing the NorCal delegation a favor. You can make no case now Stark is “adding” to gravitas of the Northern California delegation. He has been getting the NorCal delegation nothing but bad press. Pelosi obviously couldn’t get Stark to retire in this election cycle – even though he’s gone half- batty – so Swalwell – by defeating Stark – will be solving a problem they are having with this elderly member who refuses to retire gracefully. So – in answer to your question John W. – I think a lot of the support Stark is getting from incumbents is sort of pro-forma, I think more than a few are secretly rooting for Swalwell to win. Indeed, he has already said he will be voting like Pete Stark – he is dye in the wool Democrat – so the NorCal delegation will be getting a young guy who will put in the 60 hour work weeks, as opposed to having to put up with the lazy Stark.

  • Truthclubber

    @15 —

    Smellwell will DEFINITELY get the “cold shoulder” from fellow Democrats (not that he REALLY is one, mind you) as someone who “does not play well with others, especially when he finds himself in a junior role” — and the Democratic leadership will want to put as much emphasis as possible into “Congressman-in-waiting Ro Khanna” who has demonstrated that he “does play well with others” and “knows how to go along, to get along, especially in a committee of 435 members large”.

    Smellwell will not get ONE meaningful committee role — look what happened to “McNerdey” even after he snuck in under the cloud of stench that was the Pombo 2006 campaign of GOP voters sitting on their hands — nothing meaningful at all for the first two years.

  • Elwood

    @ John W. #15

    If, as seems likely, the Reeps retain the House, a freshman Dimmiecrat Congresscritter such as Swalwell will have approximately the same impact as a fart in a whirlwind.

    I’m not an expert on how the House works, but doesn’t the majority party handle committee assignments?

  • JohnW

    Re: 19

    You write with such elegance! But, you’re correct. Unlike the Senate, the House minority has next to no power; and the majority tends to abuse it’s investigative powers when the other party holds the White House.

    The number of members a party gets on each committee is determined by how many House seats they win, but the minority leader decides who the minority party members will be. There’s probably some consultation between the Speaker and House majority leader and the House minority leader.

  • Elwood

    Once again, for our mouth-breathing lip-reading friends, The Chronicle explains it all to you:


  • JohnW

    I get the sense that the newspapers would endorse any opponent to Stark, so long as it was human and a Democrat.

    They have made the strong case that Stark needs to go. Hard to disagree. But they have not put much effort into making the case that Swalwell is a well-qualified replacement. Like the candidate himself, they have indulged in generalities and platitudes and not really given him the scrutiny he would receive if there were a serious person running against him.

    Well, I have little doubt as to the outcome. And perhaps Swalwell will grow into the job. But I’m still voting for Stark: (a) because I would prefer to put up with Stark for another term and have an open contest in 2014; and (b) because I don’t like being told I have to vote for so and so just because he is not the other so and so.

    As the lyrics to the Greg Holden song go:

    I will not be commanded
    I will not be controlled
    I will not let my future go on
    without the help of my soul

  • Truthclubber

    @21 —

    Looks like their check from Tauscher also cleared…

  • Elwood

    @ 23

    The insanity of that statement is mind-boggling.

  • RR senile columnist

    Yeah, Boss Ellen, she be da big player, she da Boss wit da sauce. (Historical note: Was there ever a noted woman boss in politics?)

  • Truthclubber

    @25 —


  • Truthclubber

    @22 —

    All it will take for Stark Raving Pete to get re-elected is for Obama to take ~ 65% of the vote in that CD (likely) and for Pete to take 80% of that Obama vote (since he IS Obama’s endorsed fav for that spot) — so my math shows .80 x .65 = .52; or 52% of the vote, so it IS within the realm of reason to see him squeek by on this one.

  • Elwood

    @ #27

    See #24