Term limits cant stop Kopp from taking care of business

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

Although his causes haven't always endeared him to the Bay Area's liberal Jews, the former Republican won their endorsement throughout his tenure in the state capitol.

"Support from my fellow Jews is based on their confidence in my integrity and honesty," Kopp, 70, said.

"I've always tried to be a good Jew. I honor my rabbi, cantor and my religion," he said.

His convictions provided some of the ammo behind bills to further outlaw public swastikas and shore up existing hate-crime laws. Although many Jews questioned his backing of anti-affirmative action legislation, Kopp denied that Propositions 187 and 209 — the latter of which he co-chaired — undermined civil rights. He also questioned whether opponents represented the Jewish stance on those bills.

"I am reasonably certain that most Jews voted for 209, not withstanding the shrill opposition of American Jewish Congress," he said.

Another move that alienated some local Jews occurred while Kopp was still a board supervisor. He cast the lone vote of dissent against an application by the then-S.F. Hillel Foundation seeking a variance in zoning to establish its Banbury Drive headquarters.

Members of the local Raoul Wallenberg Jewish Democratic Club later balked at endorsing Kopp when his seat came up for re-election. The enigmatic supe maintained he was merely upholding his position against spot changes in zoning laws, even for Hillel.

As state senator, however, his record on Jewish issues is undisputed. He pushed for legislation on behalf of the Jewish community that allowed demonstrations in front of consulates. He also promoted an ordinance to deny city business to local firms honoring the Arab boycott of Israel, and led numerous inquiries into various anti-Semitic actions.

"I've been a supporter first and foremost of the First Amendment," as well as open public meeting laws and sundry bills to reinforce "honest government," he said.

One of the high points of Kopp's public life was a personal mission to volunteer for the Israel Defense Force in 1985. His month of non-combat duty at the Nevatim Air Force Base left a lasting impression. The experience led him to help establish an office for the Volunteers for Israel program in Oakland.

Kopp has served as vice president of the American Jewish Congress, trustee of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Israel-Judea, a member of Jewish National Fund's board of governors and advisory committee and has spoken during Israel Bonds' annual High Holy Day appeal.

He also is a member of both B'nai Brith's Golden Gate Lodge and the Jewish War Veterans.

A member of Beth-Israel Judea, Kopp said he looks forward to being more involved in synagogue life with his newfound spare time. Then again, he doesn't rule out a future run for mayor.

"People constantly urge me to run. I have no intention at the present time, but that is not to exclude the possibility."

He added that if 100,000 signed a petition endorsing him, "it would be difficult to ignore."

Meanwhile, his attention turns to unfinished business from Sacramento. Speaking in Orange County last week and meeting with Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan this week, he's been pushing for a high-speed rail service from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

As former chair of the state Senate Transportation Committee, he also is politicking for the completion of the BART extension to the San Francisco International Airport.

Lori Eppstein

Lori Eppstein is a former staff writer.