By Anna Lothson
The decision didn't come easy and it took a significant amount of time, but Oak Park Village President David Pope announced Thursday that he will not seek a third term in the April municipal elections.
In announcing the decision to Wednesday Journal, Pope cited progress made in the village over his eight years as president including lower crime rates and a "far more economically efficient" village government.
Pope, 46, who took office when he was 38, said he certainly won't be absent from being an active part of village government — though he's not sure in what capacity — but when April comes he'll be ready to step back, take a breath, and review the past eight years.
"I came to the feeling that it's better to leave a little bit early then a little bit late. And it's really better for the community," Pope said. "Certainly there will be critics out there that will suggest that I've already stayed too long. But with the continuity of that last year, we've really been able to advance some things that wouldn't have been able to move forward had there just been a continuing four-year term schedule."
There haven't been many two term presidents in Oak Park in sometime, and a third term would have been historically unprecedented. Although Pope won't be the one in the leader's chair, he thinks the plans he helped set in motion will continue. This includes tasks like the performance management program and the partnership with the Korea Smart Grid Institute.
"The world doesn't stop for anybody and it certainly doesn't need me in this role to ensure that someone of those very positive things underway continue to move forward," Pope said.
Pope has been in the unique situation, specifically at his age, of not having a career outside of being village president. Formerly a management consultant, he gave up that title in 2005 after he decided having a public, professional and personal life didn't mesh.
"You can do two of three of those well," he said. As president he only made about $11,000, but being able to commit himself to the community and his family was the best decision. He suggested the best candidate for Oak Park's president is those who are either retired or can follow his path of stepping away from a career during time in the role.
Not having a professional capacity has allowed Pope to be an advocate for Oak Park at a regional, state and federal level for a number of projects. When asked about rumors about his desire to run for higher offices, such as a state representative or governor, Pope laughed, saying he has no desire to work beyond a regional capacity.
"My interest is trying to pursue on helping to advance the interests of the region, in particular helping to provide opportunities for people," Pope said. This includes addressing the "fractious gridlock" seen at the state and federal level, but from a local municipality standpoint. He has been active as president in a range of regional governance issues, including the future of the Eisenhower Expressway rebuilding and housing concerns, made reference to his interest in continued public service.
"So much of the opportunity to be able to implement positive policies that advance quality of life for people exist at this point solely at the local level. So if you want to help make positive change happen, you've got to be able to be working with people who are able to help advance those changes at the local level," he said. "That's one of the things that's been so satisfying for me on a personal and professional level over the course of these last eight years."
At this point, Oak Park Trustee John Hedges is the only publicly known candidate running for the spot, but on Monday Pope said said he's informally heard multiple other candidates may be putting their names in too. Hedges was officially endorsed by the Village Managers Association Tuesday morning.
Hedges, who told the Journal earlier this month that he will be seeking the VMA nomination, is the retired executive director of the Park District of Oak Park, and is in his second term as village trustee.
Pope, who still has a stake in passing next year's budget and selecting a new village manager, doesn't quite know what he'll be doing when April hits, but he says he won't be leaving his Oak Park roots.
"My decision not to run is no reflection of my deepest commitment to the future here," he said. "I will make sure to continue to be involved in voluntary capacities to be able to help support the opportunities in our community and quality of life, but it's time for someone else to step into the role I've had for the last eight years."