Quentin Kopp, Blunt as Ever, Seeks Seat on S.F. Ethics Panel

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Quentin Kopp, right, is a former San Francisco supervisor, state senator and San Mateo County Superior Court judge. He's pictured here after his retirement from the bench alongside attorney Mark Geragos.  (Al Golub/AFP-Getty Images)

Nobody ever accused Quentin Kopp, a familiar figure in San Francisco politics for nearly half a century, of soft-peddling his opinions.

Kopp, who will turn 88 next month, has put his name forward to fill a vacancy on the city's Ethics Commission. That's the agency charged with making sure that local elected officials, lobbyists, candidates and their supporters stay on the straight and narrow, or at least abide by the letter of San Francisco law and the City Charter.

Over the years, as a member of the Board of Supervisors, as an independent in the state Senate and on the San Mateo County Superior Court, Kopp built a reputation as a blunt-talking curmudgeon. He even got a nickname for his habit of opposition -- "the Great Dissenter."

So maybe it's not surprising that Kopp has opinions -- strong opinions -- about the right way and the wrong way to deliver the news. And maybe it's not a shock that he's got a direct and forceful way of telling people when he hears something on the air he doesn't like.

NPR politics reporter Tamara Keith (once upon a time, she was a staffer here at KQED) learned firsthand about Kopp's penchant for expressing his likes and dislikes.

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Earlier this year, after what a casual listener might have thought was an innocuous exchange between Keith and NPR anchor Audie Cornish, the reporter got the following note, which she memorialized on Twitter:

"Dear Mrs. Keith: Your greeting to Audie Cornish on NPR is nauseating. That 'chipper' greeting, 'Hey Audie' and her moronic schoolgirl response 'Hey Tamara' reminds me of 16-year-olds' banter.

"You're so terrible as a political commentator and she debases a once respected profession with her flippant greeting. That's why taxpayers should not support either of you!

"Yours disgustedly, Quentin Kopp."

The note was scrawled on stationery with the heading "FYI from Q.L.K."

Kopp's Ethics Commission application includes endorsements from Supervisor Norman Yee and the head of an organization that advocates for public ethics.

Yee said in his endorsement that Kopp "will be a knowledgeable, judicious and experienced addition to the Ethics Commission."

Larry Bush, who runs Friends of Ethics, wrote that Kopp "would be the first Ethics Commissioner to have the experience and knowledge that comes from the exact background that is the primary focus of the Ethics Commission."

Several other supervisors -- Scott Wiener, Aaron Peskin and Katy Tang -- have expressed support for Kopp's appointment, which will be considered by the three-member Rules Committee on Thursday morning.

Objectively, there's nothing unethical in Kopp's crabby correspondence with Keith, even if it's dripping with condescension. But it's worth noting that the code governing behavior of Ethics Commission members includes an injunction to treat "all staff, members of the public, and colleagues with courtesy, respect, objectivity and fairness."

Taking a gratuitous swipe at a perfect stranger who was just doing her job -- calling her and her colleague "nauseating," "moronic" and the like -- seems something less than courteous, respectful and judicious.

One expert on government ethics says the note amounted to "distasteful behavior."

"Kopp's decision to personally attack a female reporter for the casual way in which she greeted another female reporter is bizarre," said Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles Ethics Commission.

She pointed out that Kopp's message had nothing to do with Keith's reporting but instead, her manner.

"Kopp is welcome to like or dislike whoever he wants, but it's curious that he decided to disparage a reporter for the way in which she greets a colleague," Levinson said.

By the way, Kopp did not respond to multiple requests for comment about his note to Keith.

Now we're on the lookout for an FYI from Q.L.K.