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In his nearly four years as executive director of the University City District, Paul Steinke never had it easy. First, he was called upon to build the neighborhood's special services district up from nothing. Then, with the fledgling UCD firmly established, Steinke often found himself at the epicenter of community resentment, as his position placed him squarely in the middle of debates between the area's diverse residents and the large institutions -- like Penn -- that keep the UCD funded. Through those tumultuous times, amazingly, Steinke always managed to keep a positive attitude about the progress being made in University City. And many of the results of his work -- yellow-jacketed safety ambassadors, corner streetlights and an enhanced neighborhood beautification project -- are hard to miss. This week, Steinke announced that he will be leaving the Penn-controlled UCD in May, putting the final touches on a job that he says has been generally accomplished. For his service to University City and his devotion to its community, he deserves the rightful recognition of the area's residents -- students, faculty and otherwise -- who call this place home. Unfortunately, though, Steinke's departure comes at a time when the University and its surrounding community could use his skills the most. Major issues -- including Penn's future expansion and the allocation of resources to the new Penn-assisted school -- continue to divide the community. And even though these issues don't concern UCD-specific initiatives, their ongoing debate is almost certainly going to involve the organization. In order to reconcile those matters, it's crucial that the UCD Board of Directors takes immediate action to find Steinke's permanent replacement. Penn Executive Vice President and UCD Chairman John Fry -- who will fill the role in an interim capacity -- is a capable administrator, but his affiliation with the University and its business practices has often cast him as an antagonist in the eyes of the community. That image could threaten the future of the UCD if he remains in the position for too long. Ideally, the next UCD executive director should be familiar with this community's issues and willing to engage a productive dialogue among its neighbors. Anything less than that, and the UCD's next leader may find his or her tenure ruined even before moving into office.

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