Dem. leader accused of threatening fellow politician

DUBLIN, Calif.

Stark has been in Congress for nearly 40 years. And for the first time, he has a real race on his hands. He usually crushes his Republican opponent. But thanks to the state's new top two primary system, this time he's running against a fellow Democrat. And when a long-time supporter bolted from the Stark camp, the congressman got testy.

When former Assemblyman Alberto Torrico decided to endorse Pete Stark's opponent, he felt he owed Stark a phone call, "You know, it was a courtesy, respect. So that's what I did," Torrico said.

And the former Assembly majority leader says Stark responded by threatening him and his livelyhood, "He said I will crush you. Then he responded well then I'm gonna talk to the trial attorneys association and make sure they don't give you any work," Torrico said.

Stark reportedly told Torrico someone should come by his house and talk to his children about Christian values, "Which I found to be ironic since he's an Atheist," Torrico noted.

Torrico called Eric Swalwell, Stark's opponent, and told him a bit about the conversation. Swawell then passed it along to reporters.

"And Congressman Stark went off on him," Swalwell said.

Swalwell is making the most of it. Stark's gaffes have given him ammo. Just last month Stark told reporters he wouldn't debate Swalwell. When asked why he answered, "Because I'd only get stupid questions like the ones you're asking."

That kind of thing hasn't helped his campaign. While no comments were being given at his headquarters in Dublin, in a statement Stark says he was goaded into it, "But it was clear from the conversation that he was itching for a fight. He was trying to get under my skin and, unfortunately, I took the bait."

Meanwhile Torrico says he's sorry that's the way Stark took it, saying he was just going to endorse Swalwell and leave it at that. But that's not the case now, "It seems to me when my livelihood is threatened, and my religious beliefs are questioned, when my kids are brought into the situation and mentioned and…"

Swalwell notes, "Alberto has promised to come out and walk with me, do community events and bring as many people into our campaign as possible."

Congressman Stark has been endorsed by the entire Bay Area congressional delegation, which is pretty standard; incumbents don't often go after their own. Perhaps that's why Stark took Torrico's defection so hard. But now he has a guy with name recognition and a practiced campaigner out working for his opponent.

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