David Pope (center) joins Lake Theatre owners Willis and Shirley Johnson (left) and Lake Theatre General Manager Jim Boughamer (right) during a ribbon cutting ceremony for the 75th anniversary in April 2011. File 2011

Somebody has to write this letter. I’m going to start. Dan Haley’s tribute was nice, but it does not begin to acknowledge what David Pope has done for the village of Oak Park.

Much will be said about how David cares for the village. True. Much will be said about how David has stabilized village government over previously tumultuous years. True. Much will be said about what a nice guy he is and how he has allowed his Peace Corps experience to foster a respect for diversity here at home. True. We will hear about how David sometimes talks too much to make his point. True. David will laugh with the rest of us about his capacity to dive unnecessarily at times into details that he somehow is able to recall with ease.

But the real story about David is how he has channeled his genuine caring, skills and leadership to keep Oak Park on the leading edge. Ask former Oak Park presidents, Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, or fellow mayoral colleagues about his impact. I’ve had the opportunity to experience David in leadership roles at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus, the Governor’s Office, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, Senator Durbin’s Office, GreenTown, the Chicago Community Trust, the Communityworks Advisory Board, and the Wild About Wellness Team.

And my window of experience of David’s leadership is small. When David walks into local, regional, and national venues, he commands not only respect but unsolicited accolades from national and regional leaders — and then he consistently adds value to the dialogue. Talk to top leaders in Oak Park, and you’ll get the same response. Talk to VOP staff. David’s leadership has not only been good, it has been extraordinary.

Evanston Mayor Tisdahl, one of the most respected mayors in the region, during a GreenTown conference in Highland Park last week took time out of a 300-person forum to lament David’s decision to not run for re-election and to praise him as a mentor to herself and to Chicago-area mayors for advancing environmental sustainability, early childhood education, performance measurements, intergovernmental cooperation. The list goes on.

The biggest complaint I’ve heard about David is that he spends too much time at village hall. Funny, if you ask me. David’s extra time at village hall has supported staff in securing unprecedented multimillion-dollar grants from HUD, DOT, IL DCEO, and other funders that have brought valuable resources to this community.

David’s leadership in collaboration with staff and trustees on so many projects — including our beautiful Marion Street developments — has enhanced the quality of life in Oak Park. I wish we could have paid the guy more than $11,000 to be our president.

Talk all you want about a council form of government, but if that means not having an out-front leader to secure resources, enhance Oak Park’s reputation, attract people to the village, and build bridges the way David has, then I think we’re missing something here.

In the end, David’s decision will hopefully be the best decision for him and his family. And as he has said, there is no person so indispensible whose absence will halt progress. We have skilled and thoughtful trustees, an extraordinary village staff, and visionary community leaders who will continue to keep Oak Park at the leading edge of the region.

But David, let me pause for a moment to say that we salute your ultra-extraordinary contributions and please know that we will miss your unique and tremendous leadership. Thank you for what you’ve done for Oak Park and for the region. We’re glad we still have you for a while.

Gary Cuneen is the executive director of Seven Generations Ahead.

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