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Forest of Grumps

The Biggest Grumps in Santa Clara County

Jim Beall
Bell Ringer: Supervisor Jim Beall is known for his verbal venting.

Photo by Christopher Gardner

Grumpy and I Vote
Jim Beall Jr., Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors Chairman

This intimidating county supe enjoys a longstanding reputation as a hothead, stemming back to his days as a councilman for the city of San Jose. His propensity for angry verbal catharses on the 10th floor is said to rankle eardrums throughout the county building. Despite a mass exodus of staff a year ago, these tirades have done little to erode his base of voter support, where constituents seem to view this towering inferno as a grump with a mission. Beall's unwillingness to suffer fools--or wait at red lights--has brought synchronized lights to the area's major intersections. So voters can thank this grump for cleaner air and less congested streets.

Grump With a Gun
Robert Gremminger, San Jose Fire Department

This former San Jose fire captain was nicknamed Grumpy Gremminger by his cohorts in the fire department long before being charged with fatally shooting a suspected shoplifter at the Great Mall. Regardless of what other factors may have been at work in that tragic incident, this public official exemplifies why grumpiness and guns are a bad idea.

O Solo Grumpo
John Baldon, Marketing Director of S. J. Symphony

He's the balding guy, standing by the door with his arms folded and a furrowed brow, looking deeply disappointed with every person walking in the door. Is he there to scare people away or welcome them? It remains unclear. Remember the gatekeeper in the Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy and company finally arrive at the gates to the Emerald City, who screams, "The Wizard says go away!" Well, this is John, who appears to wish that everyone would just go back to Kansas.

Power Grumper
Steve Jobs, CEO of Pixar

Not everybody was cheering over recent efforts to recruit Apple's co-founder and Golden Boy back to the home fruit. In fact many fled out the door even as his star was rising. During his tenure, he was legendary for bringing employees to tears, firing people around Christmas and generally behaving as a corporate enfant terrible. Jobs' personality is usually described by the media as "mercurial," which is a polite way of saying out-of-control. He rose to grouch notoriety several years back, when he created the Steven P. Jobs Foundation to help give away some of his ample income to charity, then folded it because he didn't have time.

Frank Taylor
Christopher Gardner

Red Snapper: Redevelopment Director Frank Taylor stands tall among the valley's grouches.

Grump With a Budget
Frank Taylor

It's hard to imagine, really, what San Jose's redevelopment czar has to be grumpy about. He has a spanking new $50 million budget, a stellar 15th-floor downtown office and a cadre of highly paid minions who spend their days scurrying to make his dreams come true, even when they aren't sure what those dreams are. From his perch above downtown San Jose, he overlooks the San Jose Arena, the McEnery Convention Center, the Guadalupe River Park and the future site of a new City Hall. His kingdom yawns before him, and still he frowns. There are agency staffers of several years' stay who have never met or spoken with Taylor. But for the tender at heart, this may be a good thing.

Gentleman Grump
Larry Ellison, Oracle

With all of his recent press, Ellison has practically been the Harrison Ford of high tech this summer. Possessing a Prince Charming flip side, the Oracle chief exec is said to be responsible for a tantrum a day around the old tech park. He is what sources referred to as a "smiling grump"--by many accounts the worst kind. Aside from counting Winston Churchill and Gen. Douglas MacArthur as his heroes, his media portrayals show nary a trace of surliness. But what are those ruggedly handsome rivulets in his forehead, if not a road map to his true personality?

Grump With a Grip
Steven DeCinzo, Cartoonist, Metro Newspapers

DeCinzo claims his personality has been carefully developed and honed in response to life's many challenges, yet it's far more likely that life's biggest challenge for DeCinzo has been lugging that grumpy gene around all these years. DeCinzo was born looking for trouble and is happiest, frankly, when he finds it and can cartoon it accurately. He enjoys it all the more if it makes surrounding communities want to set fire to their local newspaper office. Talented? Sure, but we're talking about an abundance of personal material, here, and none of it looks like a smiling handbag.

Grump With Grass
Sally Osberg, Executive Director, Children's Discovery Museum

There were not a lot of female contenders for this list, but the territorial exec of the purple palace has developed a progressively neurotic relationship with the front lawn of the museum--a trademark of grumphood. She successfully got her grass named "Discovery Meadow," and has set about trying to block various festivals from using the site, including the rowdy-sounding "Monopoly in the Park," a fundraiser for San Jose Beautiful. One can only wonder what she might have done if Robert Graham's Quetzalcoatl sculpture had been placed on her lawn.

John Vasconcellos
Foe Ever: People who get on the wrong side of state Sen. John Vasconcellos tend to stay there.

Esteemed Grump
Sen. John Vasconcellos

This longtime assemblyman turned state senator is said to be as grumpy as he is charming, which is a nice way of saying: Don't get on his bad side. Vasco is one of the few politicians who will kick people out of his office--regardless of the number of votes they represent--and not in a very nice way. Unlucky recipients of John's boot: the anti-affirmative action people from the Proposition 209 campaign who, after failing to budge the bearish Vasco, were told in no uncertain terms to get out of Dodge. They couldn't even coax him to shake hands. Vasco is slow to forgive political opponents who sling mud in the heat of battle, and has even been known to flip the bird to his legislative colleagues when pushed to the limit.

Gravelly Grump
Bob Brownstein, Chief Budget Aide, Mayor's Office

The way Brownstein answers his phone says it all: a coarse, gravelly New York "yeah?!" which sound like it might be followed up with a "And what OF IT?!" For this year's political satire performance, Monday Night Live, Brownstein was portrayed by an actor doing Robert DeNiro. Indeed, the mayor's tallest dog appears at times to be a moody kind of Travis Bickle, who is beloved nonetheless. Then again, this is the man doing the numbers. And numbers don't respond to nice.

Here Comes the Grump
Judge Thomas Hastings, Santa Clara County Superior Court

This straight-shooting, generally unexcited judge doesn't mince adjectives, not with defense attorneys, not with the press and not with convicted criminals. "Very easy" were the words this straight-faced judge used, calmly and without regret, to tell convicted Polly Klaas murderer and courtroom miscreant Richard Allen Davis how it would be to sentence him to the fry cooker after Davis' conviction and courtroom antics. Hastings is a shining example of a grump with a grip, who does what others wish they could.

Gritty Grump
Saratogan Don Whetstone

From his office overlooking Saratoga Creek, Whetstone is said to be Saratoga's one-man environmental SWAT team, devoting himself, like legions of grumps before him, to the rather dark subject of fecal coliform bacteria. In this case, it's the bacteria count in the pulsating, ebbing and flowing Saratoga Creek. Always on the lookout for the stray brown bubble, this active participant in Friends of Santa Clara County Creeks is perfectly willing to hire his own water-testing engineer, to sue the city for inaction and to comb through the city's water-quality reports, pointing out all the typos. It's a dirty job, but somebody with an attitude has got to do it.

Rick Tharp
Artistic License: Rick Tharp spreads his grumpiness freely, even to paying clients.

Photo by F. L. Avery

Prima Donna Grump
Rick Tharp, Tharp Did It Designs, Los Gatos

How can the man who is largely responsible for the graphic charm in the town of the cats be a grump? Reee-arrrr! Conspicuously adorning all of his creations and logos with "Tharp Did It," this ego-comes-in-extra-large guy has no trouble lashing out at tradition by having his stationery printed on black paper. Tharp shares with the world a brutal honesty and has been known to tell clients and other associates when they are too insignificant for his talents, too ridiculous or too poor. Usually, he's right.

No Use for a Smile
Jerry Sanders, President, Advanced Micro Devices

Word out on the high-tech parkway is that this guy hasn't cracked a smile in the last 15 years. It's particularly odd now, because his company is doing the best that it's ever done against its arch-rival, Intel. But Sanders still spends most of his time criticizing confiscatory federal tax policies and hobnobbing with celebrity grumps George Bush and Bob Dole. After the last presidential election, while most of Silicon Valley was having an excellent adventure with Bill, Jerry hung low with the doleful crowd. Maybe if the valley would turn around and give Sanders the big thank-you he deserves for giving Intel at least a semblance of competition, he might cheer up.

George Kennedy
Grouse Work: The grumpy personality of District Attorney George Kennedy may explain Santa Clara County's low crime rate.

Photo by Christopher Gardner

Grump With a Grimace
George Kennedy, Santa Clara County District Attorney

OK, the man is not paid to be the welcome wagon of the DA's office. Yet, as chief prosecutor in this fairly mellow county, Kennedy maintains perhaps an overly formidable reputation as a sneering grump who sees life's glass as not only half-empty, but half-full of tepid, undrinkable water. Still, he has come a long way since calling his opponent Jerry Nadler a string of unprintable epithets during an editorial board interview. When he's in the mood for it, he can morph his genetic predisposition into the hilarious deadpan delivery of a brilliant wit. Has been known to take reporters to task for quoting him using incorrect grammar. Expect a countywide press release next week, from Kennedy, saying he is not a grump.

Go for the Grump ...
Did we leave out some well-known, deserving grump? Email us: [email protected]

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From the August 7-13, 1997 issue of Metro.

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