Roll film, Mr. Leff
In the closing scenes of the 1972 film "The Candidate," starring Robert Redford, Bill McKay has just won election to the United States Senate, and in the aftermath of his victory, he is surrounded by a storm of well-wishers and various hangers-on.
As they descend on him, McKay pulls his political consultant, Marvin Lucas (played by Peter Boyle), from the swell of hysteria, and together they escape the melee and find a moment's peace in a hotel room. "Marvin?" McKay asks Lucas. "What do we do now?" As the crowd rushes in to the room, he asks the simple question again, and again, as the crowd moves in and the film ends.
For any politician, whether a senator, city mayor or, in the case of Richard Leff, a newly elected member on the Board of Supervisors for Kennett Township, the shift from candidate to elected official occurs in the blink of an eye, when a campaign platform is asked to remove its clever promises from a website and move about in the form of action.
Leff's convincing defeat of longtime Kennett Township leader Jim on Nov. 5 may have signaled a seismic shift in the future of Kennett Township politics. It may have been the death knell to politics as usual in the township, one that began with Scudder Stevens' defeat of Alan Falcoff in 2011, and continues under Stevens' aggressive fight to turn the governance of the township from a back-office stranglehold of secrecy to one of openness and revelation.
And yes, Leff's election may be nothing more than the coattail residue of a township's willingness to slowly, election by election, redefine itself and its intentions. But no matter the speculations that surround Leff's recent victory, he is now beholden to the issues that served his campaign.
He has stated that he wants to develop a ten-year strategic open space and trails plan for the township, one that will stimulate open space acquisition, preserve property, and allow for the development of a trail network throughout Kennett Township. Calling the $9 million sitting in the township's general fund an indication of poor money management on the part of the current administration, Leff wants to develop a ten-year financial plan that allocates portions of that reserve to meet present and future township needs.
On the heels of Stevens' calls for a more honest and open form of government, Leff wants to gather residents' concerns before the board pursues any action. Finally, he wants to make Kennett Township a vibrant economic center, one that preserves and protects its assets, and develops plans that protect its citizens from over-development and over-taxation.
Beginning in January, Leff's election to the Kennett Township board of supervisors will no longer be about the campaign promises that allowed him to prevail in arguably the most important election in southern Chester County this year. Whether he succeeds in achieving these objectives, or whether he merely becomes an elected figurehead - a silent "second" to Stevens' growing agenda - will soon become known.
Unlike the campaign and ultimate victory experienced by a fictional character played by Robert Redford 41 years ago, however, Leff's election to the board is real. In his case, the film has just begun, and the question that begins the life of every elected official will soon beg to be answered.