An East Bay congressional candidate is on the warpath after the longtime incumbent he's challenging publicly accused him of accepting bribes, yet hasn't produced evidence.
Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, leveled the accusation against fellow Democrat, Dublin councilman and Alameda County prosecutor Eric Swalwell during a candidates' forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of the Eden Area on Tuesday night at Hayward City Hall.
Stark, 80, said Swalwell, who was elected to the Dublin council in 2010, has taken "hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes" from the Lin family -- among the city's most prominent real estate developers -- in exchange for his votes on zoning issues. "If I were a lawyer, I would call that bribery, but I'm not a lawyer, so I'll let Mr. Swalwell define what he thinks taking all this money from people that he gave special zoning privileges to is. Maybe it's how he sees his role in government."
Swalwell, 31, immediately refuted the accusation.
"I've never spoken to any person in the Lin family; there's been no bribery, and our contributions have all been reported," he said after the forum, calling Stark's claim "the accusation of a desperate man who realizes now more than ever that his 40-year reign may be coming to an end."
Swalwell released a statement Wednesday demanding that Stark produce evidence to support the "defamatory" claim within a day, or else issue a public apology. Alex Tourk, Stark's campaign strategist, later Wednesday issued a statement saying Stark "has been personally attacked by Eric Swalwell day in and day out for the past six months while focusing on the job at hand: defending universal health care, protecting Social Security and Medicare and jump starting our nation's economy. This is politics, not a pony ride."
But Tourk didn't return this newspaper's emails and calls Wednesday, Thursday or Friday requesting evidence to support Stark's claims.
Swalwell renewed his call for an apology Friday.
"As an elected city councilmember and a prosecutor, I take my oath to uphold the public trust very seriously. This accusation is completely false and without merit, and Congressman Stark knows it," he said in a statement which also said his campaign "is weighing its legal options to ensure that Congressman Stark stops this malicious act of defamation."
Swalwell's 2010 and 2011 economic-interests disclosures showed no income from the Lin family or anyone associated with it. His campaign-finance report for the quarter ending Dec. 31 showed contributions of $2,500 from Mei-Chun Lin of Pleasanton, as well as $2,500 each from Charter Properties President James Tong and his wife, Jennifer, of Fremont. Charter Properties and the Lin family have worked together on Dublin developments.
Stark -- now seeking his 21st House term -- has a history of speaking bluntly about his political opponents, from Republican House members in Capitol Hill hearings to tea party activists at his town hall meetings.
Swalwell has made Stark's reputation part of his platform as he campaigns in the newly drawn 15th Congressional District, which includes Hayward, Pleasanton, Dublin, San Ramon, Livermore, Union City and part of Fremont as well as unincorporated areas including Castro Valley, Fairview and San Lorenzo. Stark, he claims, has served in Congress and lived in Maryland too long and has lost touch with the district.
Stark also accused Swalwell at Tuesday's forum of having a spotty voting record.
Alameda County Registrar of Voters records show Swalwell has cast a ballot in every election since he returned from college and law school in Maryland in 2006.
Claims overshadow the issues
as race for House seat heats up.