For the second time in five years the Chicago Urban League will be searching for a new leader after its chief executive officer announced Wednesday she is stepping down to run for the U.S. Senate in 2016.
Andrea Zopp, president and CEO of the urban league, said her resignation would become effective May 31. In 2009, Cheryl Jackson stepped down as head of the urban league in her failed 2010 Democratic bid for U.S. Senate.
“My time with the Chicago Urban League has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life and I am thankful to the board, staff and auxiliary groups for embracing me on this journey to empower Chicago’s African American community and all who are under-served,” said Zopp, who is also resigning as a Chicago Board of Education board member.
The former first assistant for the Cook County State’s Attorney Office and an executive with ComEd, declined to explain why she is leaving the urban league to challenge U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) for his seat and Democratic opponent U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth.
Her five-year tenure as head of the urban league was well-served, said Joseph Gregoire, board chairman of the urban league.
“Andrea ushered in a new era of excellence for the Chicago Urban League and led the transformation of the organization into a leading voice on issues impacting African Americans and the city of Chicago,” said Gregoire. “Under her dynamic leadership our advocacy has expanded, our programs have become stronger, and our financial house is in order. We thank Andrea for her tremendous leadership and wish her well in her future endeavors. All of us on the board look forward to working with Shari as our interim CEO and know that, under her leadership, the urban league is in good hands.”
He added that Zopp’s legacy included millions of dollars in contracts being awarded to minority-owned companies during the successful CTA Red Line South Reconstruction project; the creation of a construction training program that prepares women and people of color for union apprenticeships and job opportunities in five counties; the Urban League serving on the steering committee for the successful statewide marriage equality campaign; the urban league being a key leader in statewide legislation and litigation to reform public school funding; taking more than 60 students on cultural exchanges to China; and growing the Chicago Urban League’s advocacy and programming, which increased educational, economic and leadership development opportunities for the more than 10,000 people the urban league serves annually.
In the interim Shari Runner, senior vice president for Strategy and Community Development for the urban league, said she will serve as president and CEO until a permanent replacement is identified.
“I am grateful to Andrea and the board of directors for entrusting me with this opportunity to lead the Chicago Urban League at this critical time in our history,” said Runner. “As we approach our centennial in 2016, I will focus on increasing the impact of our outstanding programs, keeping our strategic partnerships strong, and introducing the Chicago Urban League to new stakeholders who will join in our efforts to strengthen Chicago’s African American communities and the city of Chicago.”
As interim president and CEO, urban league officials said Runner would oversee all operations of the urban league and serve as the lead representative of the urban league to the board of directors, funding partners, media outlets and collaborating organizations. Furthermore, Gregoire said Runner has been a part of the urban league’s executive leadership team for the last five years and with her more than 25 years in operations and financial management, she has helped advance many programs the 99-year-old nonprofit provides.
During her time as urban league boss Zopp said she accomplished a lot and plans to accomplish more as a U.S. senator.
“I will always be connected to the Chicago Urban League and know that the organization will remain strong for many years to come,” Zopp said. I am proud of the work accomplished during my time at the Chicago Urban League including the urban league being recognized as a contemporary civil rights, economic development and civic engagement leader; the hundreds of jobs we helped create; the millions of dollars in contracts we helped businesses secure; the thousands of families we helped purchase and keep their homes; the hundreds of students we helped stay in school and attend college and the increased trust and support we received from our funding partners.”