Former Rep. Fortney "Pete" Stark, who died Jan. 24, 2020. (Wikipedia photo)

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Bay Area politicians and others paid tribute this week to former U.S. Rep. Fortney “Pete” Stark, who died Jan. 24 at his home in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

“Congressman Stark dedicated his life to defending every American’s right to quality, affordable health care,” said U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, in a statement. “Personally and professionally, I was proud to work with Pete to pass the Affordable Care Act, which stands as a pillar of health and economic security in America today.”

Stark, 88, was a congressman from 1973 until January 2013, and represented Alameda, Union City, Hayward, Newark, San Leandro, San Lorenzo and Fremont, plus parts of Oakland and Pleasanton at the time he was succeeded by Eric Swalwell.

Swalwell weighed in Friday night on Stark’s death.

“Pete Stark gave the East Bay decades of public service as a voice in Congress for working people,” Swalwell said on Twitter. “His knowledge of policy, particularly health care, and his opposition to unnecessary wars demonstrated his deep care and spirit. Our community mourns his loss.”

Born Nov. 11, 1931, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Stark served in the U.S. Air Force from 1955 to 1957 and earned a master’s degree from the UC Berkeley Haas School of Business in 1960. In 1963 he founded Security National Bank in Walnut Creek, which eventually had branches in several cities in Alameda and Contra Costa counties and still exists today.

Originally a Republican, Stark — a strident opponent of the Vietnam War — became a Democrat. As a congressman, he was often blunt, and made controversial and sometimes indelicate statements. But his fellow electeds said he always put his constituents first.

“Congressman Stark dedicated his life to expanding access to quality, affordable health care for all. His tireless work as a leader of the critical Health Subcommittee on the Ways and Means Committee helped safeguard the Affordable Care Act and Medicare from partisan attacks,” U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement Saturday. “He made a difference in the lives of millions of people across the country, guaranteeing that everyone had access to health care when they needed it — whether through COBRA or ensuring that hospitals treat people seeking emergency care, regardless of insurance coverage.”

A former president also praised Stark.

“Pete believed in the power of government to make a real difference in people’s lives. And he proved it for 40 years,” former President Bill Clinton said in a statement Saturday. “In the White House, I saw firsthand how he worked for an inclusive, peace-loving America, and how his deep policy knowledge and lawmaking skills helped millions of people — providing health care to workers after they leave a job, ensuring no one can be denied care at an emergency room, and giving coverage to millions of uninsured children and ultimately 20 million of his fellow Americans through the Affordable Care Act. ”

Stark is survived by his wife Deborah, seven children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.