HAYWARD, Calif. -- A former California state lawmaker said Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif., threatened his career and his family, questioned his religious faith and accused him of being mentally ill after he told the 40-year incumbent he was endorsing his opponent this November.
Alberto Torrico, the former majority leader of the California Assembly, told National Journal on Tuesday that Stark, 80, exploded in anger when he called to inform him he was backing Stark's Democratic opponent, 31-year old Dublin city councilman Eric Swalwell.
"Probably, for the next five, ten minutes he lit into me. I don't think I said more than three words," said Torrico, a Democrat.
After "calling me a turncoat," Torrico said that Stark "questioned my mental health. He asked me if I was well, if I was ill. He said that he was concerned for the safety of my children, that maybe he should send a social worker to my house to check on their safety because I'm clearly ill."
Stark's alleged remarks to Torrico are only the latest in a string of erratic missteps that have left the veteran lawmaker in trouble as he fights for reelection in a new district and under new election rules in California that have allowed two Democrats to advance until November. Earlier this year, Stark accused Swalwell of taking bribes in a debate and accused a local columnist of donating to his opponent.
Stark had to apologize in both instances. Torrico said it was those missteps that led him to endorse Swalwell in the first place.
During their conversation, Stark, who is the first openly atheist member of Congress, also questioned Torrico's Christian faith, Torrico said. "He took the opportunity to say he'd come to my house and teach my children about the Christian faith because I couldn't," he said.
"From an atheist, I found it interesting," Torrico said.
Torrico, who left office in 2010, said Stark went on to say "he would destroy me politically if I ever run for office again" and when he told him he had a private law practice, Stark replied that "he would contact the trial attorneys association and tell them not to give me any work."
There was more.
"Basically after all that, after questioning my faith, after threatening to have my children taken away by social workers, after threatening my livelihood and questioning whether I'm still a Democrat... after questioning all of those things and threatening me he asked me to reconsider," he said.
"I was going to be a passive supporter of the councilman," Torrico said. But now "I'm going to do everything I can to help the councilman get elected."
Stark's campaign strategist did not respond to an email request for comment.