Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., has made some nasty charges during his 19 terms in Congress. Stark has called a female colleague a “whore,” a male colleague a “little fruitcake” and a black Cabinet member “a disgrace to his race.” At a political debate last month, Stark accused Democratic challenger Eric Swalwell, a city councilman, of accepting “hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” — without presenting any proof.
Later, Stark issued a lukewarm apology.
At a San Francisco Chronicle editorial board meeting Tuesday, Stark completed the crazy circle when he accused someone in the room of giving money to Swalwell’s campaign — a violation of journalistic ethics. He then named me.
Stark said he had the documentation, but — of course — he did not. The accusation was worse than false; it demonstrated how out of touch Stark has become.
He doesn’t do his homework. (Indeed, he told us his 16-year-old son dug up the goods on me.) He doesn’t read the local newspaper. (He didn’t realize that no one in the room believed for a second that the Chronicle’s conservative columnist wrote a check to a Democrat.) He shoots off his mouth and then lets others ask questions.
Stark is 80 and uses a cane and a hearing aid. Writing about his latest gaffe feels almost like mugging an old lady. Except that Stark has been smearing people for decades.
Stark has personified all the things that are wrong with Washington. A gerrymandered district loaded with Democrats protected him for losing to a Republican; until now, no serious Democrat dared challenge him. No matter what Stark said, no matter how much his antics shamed Congress, Stark knew no fear of losing re-election; he knew only arrogance and entitlement.
Stark is too uncivil even for Washington. When a House Ethics Committee admonishment led Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., to resign as House Ways and Means Committee chairman in 2010, Stark’s seniority put him next in line. But as Politico reported, “Democrats, from the leadership to the back benches, saw Stark as a potential liability because of his penchant for firing off offensive remarks at a wide range of people, including fellow lawmakers, ethics investigators and even constituents.” Members leapfrogged over Stark to name Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich.
When editorial page editor John Diaz asked Stark about his role in “the deterioration of civility in Washington,” Stark bemoaned the days when members could call one another names and then go out for a drink.
Next, he blamed Republicans and the tea party for the toxic atmosphere inside the Beltway.
Enter California’s new open primary, in which the top two candidates face each other in November, even if they’re from the same party. Finally, a Democrat can give Stark a run for his money.
At an editorial board meeting Wednesday, Swalwell said of Stark’s smear tactics, “He was willing to say anything to fool and deceive people without doing just basic research.”
And: “Anyone who’s served 40 years in Congress you don’t want to see unravel in such an undignified way.”
But you don’t want to see him remain in office — smearing more people — either.