A top county Democrat says he has received death threats that he believes are related to his stand on a local recall election.

Nagaraja Rao, chairman of the Contra Costa County Democratic Central Committee, says he has received nine death threats on his cell phone since the Times reported last week that his party approved a resolution opposing a recall of Pinole Mayor Maria Alegria and Councilman Stephen Tilton.

"Multiple law enforcement agencies are investigating this hate crime," Rao told the Pinole City Council on Tuesday night during a public comment period in which he also announced that state Sen. Tom Torlakson; state Assemblyman Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Loni Hancock; Firefighters Local 1230; the Contra Costa Deputy Sheriffs Association; the Contra Costa County Business and Construction Trades Council; the Contra Costa County Central Labor Council; and the Sierra Club also oppose a recall.

Rao said he was at the Berkeley Marina taking a seminar on shoreline oil cleanup Saturday morning when he received the first of four threatening calls between 9:30 and 10 a.m.; he reported the calls to Berkeley police, who, Rao said, declared them a hate crime because of their apparent relationship to political activity.

The Berkeley police did not return calls to the Times for comment Wednesday.


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Rao, who lives in Richmond, said he also has spoken to Richmond police and that Pinole police are investigating as well. He said he has authorized his cell phone service provider, T-Mobile, to share his phone records with law enforcement authorities.

Richmond police Lt. Mark Gagan said Wednesday that Rao talked to a Richmond detective supervisor Tuesday and that the department is conducting a preliminary investigation of Rao's allegations. The incident did not show up on the police computer earlier Tuesday, Gagan said, because Rao spoke directly to the supervisor without going through the regular channels.

Pinole police have not returned calls.

Rao said Berkeley police interviewed him Saturday.

Outside the Pinole council chamber Tuesday night, Rao said the first caller, a woman, told him: "I'm watching you. You will be dead." On Tuesday, another caller, a man, said, "I know what you did yesterday. I'm watching. You will be dead. You will be dead for sure," Rao said.

In some of the calls, it was difficult to tell if the caller was male or female. "Sometimes they talk like they're disguising their voice," Rao said.

Rao said there was no language in the calls specifically linking them to his and his party's stand against a recall of Alegria and Tilton on Feb. 5. But the timing of the calls -- on the day the Times published the article and earlier on the day of Rao's appearance at the Pinole City Council -- makes it obvious they are connected, he said.

Cindy Trego, a recall supporter, questioned whether anyone connected with the recall drive has anything to do with the calls Rao said he received.

"Is he sure they're coming from recall people?" said Trego, who is a Pinole Neighborhood Watch captain and a member of an ad hoc committee on public safety created in the aftermath of a 2005 double murder in Pinole. "Or are these threats based on other issues that he is pursuing with the Democratic Party?

"We certainly encourage him to follow through on the investigation, and we'd like him to report back his findings."

Rao reiterated Wednesday that he is positive the death threats are related to his stance against the recall.

"Nothing else happened that could trigger these calls," he said.

To watch Rao address the Pinole City Council, visit http://pinole.granicus.com/ViewPublisher.php?view_id=2, click on "View Video" for Nov. 20, 2007, then select 6, "Citizens to be heard."

Reach Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 or tlochner@bayareanewsgroup.com.