Mr. Public Interest: MMTC Honors Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps

by Jacqueline Clary on April 14, 2012

On April 12, the Minority Media & Telecommunications Council and friends gathered at the National Cable and Telecommunications Association to honor former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps for his service and commitment to civil rights in the communications industries.

In 1970, Commissioner Copps’ arrival in Washington began a remarkable career that would herald the return to public interest driven policymaking.

Passion.  Integrity.  Extraordinary Public Service.  Family.  Friend.  Rock Star.  This is the legacy of Commissioner Copps, as illustrated in sincere remarks from the fourteen Commissioners represented at the event and comments from former staff members, colleagues, and friends.

Joining Senator Ernest “Fritz” Hollings as his Chief of Staff, Copps embarked on a distinguished career spanning the public and private sectors.  Copps has said of his mentor, Fritz Hollings, “He was my hero when I worked for him and he’s my hero today.”

Ralph Everett, president and CEO of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, delivered remarks on behalf of Senator Hollings.  Through Everett, Sen. Hollings apologized for being unable to return to Washington for some time, but threatened to return to refocus Congress’ attention on serving the people.  Of Commissioner Copps, he stated, “Mike Copps is a perfect professional, whether it is in the classroom, chief of staff for a United States Senator, Assistant Secretary of Commerce, or FCC Commissioner.  He understands and he teaches.  No wonder he won a Franklin Roosevelt Freedom of Speech award last year.  All along, he is the thoughtful husband and father.”

After serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary and Assistant Secretary for Trade Development at the Department of Commerce, Commissioner Copps joined the Federal Communications Commission in 2001.  Commissioner Copps became known as an advocate for the public interest, supporting diversity in media ownership, equal employment opportunities, emergency communications for all communities, and broadband for all.  As Acting Chairman in 2009, he successfully steered the nation through the DTV transition.

Throughout his tenure, Commissioner Copps gained the respect of industry, nonprofits, and his fellow Commissioners.  Across party lines, colleagues spoke of great respect for Commissioner Copps.

Former Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth said, “… at various times I have called him the most honest man in Washington.  There are times I’ve called him the most powerful man in Washington.  There are times I’ve called him the most dangerous man in Washington.  They all go together.”

While joking about their differences and sharing some of the more memorable sound bites, including the touching quip that the three-minute cap on his remarks meant he’d have less time to get choked up, Commissioner Robert McDowell illustrated Copps’ effective bipartisan leadership by noting that during the time Copps was Chairman, they voted together 100 percent of the time.

Thanking Copps for his greatness, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn explained that Copps embodied the sermons she heard growing up as the daughter of a politician.  “If we do disagree, we should do so without being disagreeable… [and] the world would rather see a sermon than to hear one.”

Speaking on behalf of Chairman Genachowski and FCC staff, Zac Katz simply noted, “We miss you.”  But the spirit and Copps’ legacy of intellect and unwavering commitment to serving the public continues to inspire those who remain at the FCC.

Larry Irving, former Department of Commerce assistant secretary for communications and information and NTIA administrator, spoke on how a person’s pedigree can be determined by examining who they work for, who they work with, and who works for them.  “It’s the people who we can train and work with who follow us, who continue the fight, that really make a difference.  And when you look at the amazing young men and women…and the careers they have left, and what they have learned, and what they have seen, and the example that Michael has set for them in terms of public life and public policy, you’ve got to feel good about where we are going to go; that we are never going to completely go adrift because of the anchor and that anchor is the tutelage of Michael Copps.”

Based on the comments of former colleagues and staff members, it is clear that Copps’ tutelage has been taken to heart.  Colleagues spoke of Commissioner Copps with profound respect and explained the impact he has had on their lives, perspectives, and careers in trying to live up to his vision and meet his challenge to find solutions to problems and serve the greater good.

After leaving the FCC, Commissioner Copps joined the Boards of Common Cause and Public Knowledge.  These organizations will surely benefit from Copps’ passion and expertise just as our nation will benefit from having Copps’ continued support and vigilance to uphold the public interest.

William E. Kennard, former FCC Commissioner and current Ambassador to the European Union, left passionate remarks for Commissioner Copps via video.   “I have always believed that the most important job for people in government is to give a voice to those who don’t have a voice, to provide influence and power to those who can’t hire people to walk the halls of the eighth floor of the FCC,” he said. “Mike, you have done this.  You have done this with uncommon skill, passion, and courage.  You’ve been the voice for so many who need government to make their lives better, to give them access to the information and technologies that they need to make their daily lives better, to provide opportunities for minorities and the underserved.  Mike, you’ve been terrific.”

The industry and nation wait with renewed hope and bated breath to witness his legacy in action as the next generation of leaders step up to follow Copps’ example.

  • Jacqueline Clary

    Jacqueline Clary is the John W. Jones Fellow at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council. In this position, she focuses on a variety of policy issues to advance minority participation in the media and telecommunications industries. Ms. Clary earned her B.A. from John Carroll University, her J.D. from Syracuse University College of Law, and is a member of the New York State Bar.

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