Longtime Roseland councilman Richard Leonard faces calls for his resignation from Republican leaders after being charged with criminal misconduct by the Essex County Prosecutor.
First reported by NJ Advance Media and the Caldwell Progress, Leonard allegedly sought a right-of-way for his own property in exchange for voting in favor of a redevelopment plan for a site near his own.
Democrats, who are looking to break the Republican majority in the fall mayor and council elections, stopped short of calling on Leonard to step down and instead said the charges highlight why the small Essex County borough needs a change in leadership.
“It is disheartening to learn that an elected official is accused of misusing their office. While we respect the idea of being presumed innocent until proven guilty, we believe it would be in the best interests of Roseland and the public’s trust in their elected officials if Councilman Rich Leonard resigns immediately to concentrate on his legal issues,” Essex GOP chairman Al Barlas and Roseland Republican Municipal Chair Mary Comito said in a joint statement.
The Roseland Democratic Committee issued a statement saying that “our justice system considers every person to be innocent until proven guilty.”
“This incident and the recent events involving other Council members illustrate the need for new, fresh leadership that will bring honesty, integrity and openness to the Roseland government,” the Democrats said. “That’s why we are so proud to be supporting dynamic candidates on the Line A Democratic ticket.”
Last year, Leonard released text messages between two councilmen exchanging racial and religious jokes.
If Leonard resigns, a special election will be held in November for his unexpired term.
Democrats picked up a council seat last year and are mounting a strong campaign to elect a mayor and two more councilmembers in the general election.
Leonard has been in Roseland politics since the 1970’s and was the Democratic mayor for several years before eventually switching parties and returning to local government as a Republican. He had run for State Assembly and Essex County Freeholder as a Democrat.