Editorial: Four Signs in Kennett Township
By Richard Gaw
Every year at this time, the residents of Chester County are assured of the fact that two colorful components will grace our landscape. The more attractive of the two are the fiery shades of autumn that set our region aglow in bursts of red, orange and yellow. The other, equally blessed with color but far less attractive, are the political campaign signs that sprout from the earth with the glaring – and some say necessary – presence that simply will not be denied.
Dr. Richard Leff, a candidate for the Kennett Square Township Board of Supervisors, is the owner of signs that promote his campaign for reelection to the township board for another six-year term. The signs are a combination of blue lettering on a yellow background, and their wording is easy to read from a passing vehicle: WE LIKE LEFF.
A bouquet of these signs were placed recently at the corner of Bayard Road and East Hillendale Road in the township, and then, like what happens when a rambunctious child is allowed to run roughshod through a pasture of wildflowers with hands outstretched, the number of WE LIKE LEFF signs dwindled slightly.
On Oct. 3, Leff informed Police Chief Lydell Nolt of the Kennett Township Police Department of the missing signs, and on Oct. 4, in an effort to find the cause and possible culprit, Detective Amanda Wenrich placed two trail cameras near the intersection, and within an hour or so, one of the cameras caught the image of a man who held one WE LIKE LEFF sign in his hand and was attempting to pull another from the ground.
The man in the photograph was 87-year-old Michael Elling, a former chairman of the township's board of supervisors.
Before those of you reading this editorial rush to condemn Elling for his actions, consider his motivations for performing his deed. A member in good standing of the old guard Republicans of Kennett Township, Elling was doing his part to canvas the area in support of Republican Hunter Tower, and perhaps Elling felt that the removal of WE LIKE LEFF signage from that intersection would help Tower's campaign to defeat Leff on Nov. 5.
Perhaps he believed so strongly in the impact that campaign signage has on our local electorate that he felt compelled to root them from the earth, and therefore lessen the name recognition of Leff in Kennett Township by one intersection.
Maybe Elling' actions were, in fact, reactionary – an anger impulse response to the changing demographics of Chester County, which have elected three Democrats to the township's board since 2012; have led to the election of four Democrats to the county seat; have seen the election of Democrat Christina Sappey to the Pa. State House; and witnessed the landslide victory of Democrat Chrissy Houlahan to the U.S House of Representatives.
Elling's decision to remove those four signs may have been prompted by his intense dislike of the decisions being made by the current supervisors, the tenor of which he has shared openly at board meetings about a myriad of topics like township spending, the huge tax increase that arose from the board's decision to invest in its police force and the preservation of the historic Chandler Mill Bridge.
And maybe, Michael Elling risked the chance of getting caught – and risking the complete ruination of his reputation and legacy as a long-time township leader – because he saw the action as the last vestige of an 87-year-old former political figure who will do almost anything to see his party win.
While Elling's fingerprints were still fresh on the stolen signs, representatives from the local Democratic party rushed to lambaste Elling's act. The press release provided a statement calling for a return to “civility” in local politics and the belief that both parties are better when they are “working together.”
This newspaper found the Democrats' response to be the ultimate in self righteousness, and one delivered hastily and with a terrible memory. Four years ago, as township resident Ted Moxon campaigned to become the lone Republican on the township's three-person board, local Democrats sent the local press information that attempted to slander Moxon's name and his reputation by circulating information about Moxon's financial history. They did so at the risk of damaging the campaign of Moxon's opponent Whitney Hoffman, who told a member of this newspaper at her home that she was not only unaware of this action, she immediately condemned it, as well.
Since word of Elling's incident has circulated throughout southern Chester County, he has been vilified for his actions, and while this newspaper believes that his act defies all logic of political protocol, Michael Elling was merely mirroring what our political way of life has always been about.
On Oct. 4, Michael Elling made the decision to lower his standards down to the bedrock point of stupidity and recklessness, because he believed that stealing four signs in Kennett Township would better assure that the candidate of his choice will emerge victorious in this election.
He now carries that decision with him, for all of its intentions, both good and bad.