Richard Leonard, who has held local office in Roseland for most of the last 44 years, has resigned his seat on the borough council after pleading guilty charges that he sought a right-of-way for his own property in exchange for supporting a redevelopment plan for a site near his own.
The resignation will trigger a vote of the Roseland Republican County Committee to select three potential successors to fill the remaining eleven months of Leonard’s term. The Democratic-controlled council will pick one of the three.
“I am sad to see the situation involving Rich Leonard reach the point that it has in the last several weeks. Any time an elected official is convicted of wrong doing it feels sad and hapless, but when it impacts your own town it hits you right between the eyes,” said Roseland Democratic municipal chairman Julius Coltre. “For years Mr. Leonard asked the residents of Roseland to put their trust in him to work for the advancement of our great community, and our towns wonderful citizens always obliged.”
Coltre said that Leonard had “lost focus of his original goals for the betterment of Roseland and instead opted for personal gain.”
“Public servants are supposed to work for the residents they serve and not for their own self-interest, and thus it’s safe to say that Mr. Leonard’s actions are a distressing situation,” Coltre said. “My hope is that candidates like Mr. Leonard, who lose sight of the desire to benefit the community that they represent, will be ousted from our municipal government, and I believe that with this recent change in administration we are going to move in the right direction in order to accomplish new and beneficial ideas for Roseland.”
Democrat James Spango was elected mayor in 2018, along with a Democratic majority on the borough council.
When charges were filed against Leonard last May, Essex County Republican Chairman Al Barlas and Roseland GOP municipal chair Mart Comito issued a joint statement calling for Leonard’s resignation. He refused.
In 2017, Leonard released text messages between two councilmen exchanging racial and religious jokes.
Leonard was first elected to the borough council in 1973 and as mayor in 1974 as a Democrat. He had run for State Assembly and Essex County freeholder as a Democrat before switching parties and returning to serve as a Republican councilman.