HIGHTSTOWN, N.J. (9/1/09)--Credit Union National Association President/CEO Dan Mica's announcement that he will step down from the position in January 2011 prompted one league CEO to sum up Mica's contributions to the credit union movement in two words: "grassroots lobbying." Mica "brought so much to our movement and forever changed the way the credit union system looks," said Paul Gentile, president/CEO of the New Jersey Credit Union League, in his message in the league's newsletter (The Weekly Exchange Aug. 24).. Before he joined the league, Gentile spent a number of years as editor-in-chief of Credit Union Times, reporting on the industry and its trends. In 1996, when Mica joined CUNA, "The credit union/bank war was fierce," wrote Gentile, outlining field of membership (FOM) expansion lawsuits brought by bankers against the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the AT&T FCU case appealed to the Supreme Court, FOM cases in Utah and Pennsylvania and "an onslaught of banker attempts to rid credit unions of their nonprofit status. "Bankers routinely categorized NCUA as a 'cheerleader' for credit unions and not a regulator. The rhetoric was downright vicious. Vitriol spewed from bankers looking to squash expansion of the credit union movement. Credit unions were constantly on the defensive, always having to fend off one banker attack after another," he wrote. "Enter Mica. At a time when credit unions' influence on Capitol Hill was modest, Mica raised the bar," said Gentile, noting that the CUNA Political Action Committee (PAC) has become one of the top trade association PACs in the country. "But I believe Mica's greatest accomplishment was in grassroots lobbying and getting credit unions to understand that lobbying isn't just for crises. He had a vision to rally credit unions for the next attack, even when there was no attack," Gentile wrote. "Mica led the development of authentic grassroots lobbying that hinged on building relationships from the roots of the movement, the credit unions themselves," Gentile said. "Any industry can bring in hired guns to represent them on Capitol Hill, but not just any industry has the type of grassroots power that Mica shaped during his 13-year tenure at CUNA," he added. "Credit unions now understand the importance of constantly developing lawmaker relationships even when there isn't a rallying cry. Mica helped lead this sea of change in credit union lobbying. In the end, while our trade associations carry the ball on Capitol Hill, we need the participation of credit unions from throughout the country to really hit home with Congress. We have that today and Dan was the driving force." Mica built a political machine at CUNA that has the structure to influence for years to come, Gentile said, listing CUNA's annual Governmental Affairs Conference and CUNA's Calls to Action, which rally thousands of credit union leaders to get the attention of lawmakers or regulators. "We saw the power of that Call to Action earlier this year when CUNA pressured NCUA to give credit unions more information about the investments held in the corporate credit union network," he wrote. Mica "turned CUNA from a marginal player in D.C. to a respected and sophisticated force. He put us on the map." Gentile noted that the average tenure for a CUNA CEO was seven years. "Mica blew that mark away because of his passion for credit unions and his ability to get us organized in D.C. Make no mistake. Mica's mark on credit unions won't leave when he leaves."