By Richard L. Gaw
In an interview with the Chester County Press in late April of this year, Richard Leff sat in the kitchen of his home on South Fairville Road and said that his campaign to become the next member of the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors was intended, in his words, “to open up the sunshine, and sunlight is the best disinfectant.”
Beginning in January of next year, he will be given that opportunity.
Leff, a Democrat with no prior experience in Kennett Township politics, narrowly defeated Jim Przywitowski, a Republican with more than two decades of work with the township, by an unofficial vote of 1,083 to 867, thus electing him to a six-year term on the board, where he will serve with supervisors Robert Hammaker and Scudder Stevens, beginning in Jan. 2014. Leff will fill the slot soon to be vacated by supervisor Michael Elling, who had served on the board for 18 years.
Unofficial voting tabulations show that Leff narrowly defeated Przywitowski in all three voting precincts in the township. In the first precinct, Leff compiled 52.81 percent of the votes, defeating Przywitowski, 263-235. In the second precinct, Leff earned 51.39 percent of the vote, edging Przywitowski, 241-228, and in the third precinct, Leff received 64.57 percent of the vote, beating Przywitowski, 288-158. These figures were compiled by Chester County Voter Services.
Leff's victory could not have come at a more crucial time in Kennett Township politics, one that arrives less than two years after the controversial campaign and eventual election of Stevens to the board. Stevens' November 2011 defeat of incumbent Alan Falcoff – an often vitriolic campaign hellbent on breaking up the “old guard” of Falcoff, Elling and Hammaker, and enforcing a more transparent form of governance, was highlighted by Stevens' request to obtain access to the township's financial records, as well as other documents.
Despite Stevens' victory, the jurisdiction of the board has often remained in a 2-1 vote over the past two years, with Hammaker and Elling often voting in tandem. Although some in the township believe that Leff's victory was the result of a coattail momentum begun with Stevens' victory two years ago, Leff's viewpoints on township issues mirror those of Stevens, and his place on the board is expected to serve as a watershed turn of control on the board, thus flipping the majority vote in the other direction.
As specified during his campaign and publicly shared during a “Meet the Candidates” event held in Kennett Square on Oct. 8, the basis of Leff's platform was to create inclusiveness in deliberations, transparency in decisions, efficient use of pooled resources, and increased resident discussion at public meetings.
“Two years ago, you the voters agreed that the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors needed changing,” Leff said in his closing statement at the event. “I believe that we need to end that management that we've been forced to endure under the leadership of my opponent and his colleagues. When you leave here tonight, ask yourself, 'What have each of us done in the past, and what are we likely to do in the future?'”
Another component of Leff's tenure on the board will aim to repair the often fractious rivalry between local land conservancy groups vying for control over the way the township's open space business is conducted. During the Oct. 8 event, Leff criticized the township for what he called “a lot of lost opportunities” in open space possibilities over the last five years, saying that during that time, no significant deals were completed.
"The township's been trying to go it alone for the past several years, and it hasn't worked," Leff said. "They kicked out land assessment professionals it had worked with, those who used to work with the township on appraisals an estimates, professionals who knew how assess land deals and how to acquire land grants."
A graduate of the Yale University School of Medicine, Leff has spent the past 30 years involved in medical research in a variety of fields. After serving on the faculty at the Medical University of South Carolina, he changed his career path to drug research and development, which led him to Bayer Pharmaceuticals in Connecticut, and eventually on to DuPont and Astra Zeneca in Delaware.