First elected in 1997, Leonard says she’ll retire in early 2021. Mayor Jim Maley says his ticket will solicit a third running mate, along with Commissioner Rob Lewandowski.
By Matt Skoufalos | December 4, 2020
After 24 years in service to the Collingswood borough government, Commissioner Joan Leonard will not seek a return to office in the spring.
Leonard, a 62-year-old occupational therapist, brought a conservationist’s perspective to her time in office, helping establish the Collingswood Bike Share, Community Garden and Horticultural Society.
She supported the borough shade tree program, helped develop an integrated pest management strategy for Knight Park, and worked long hours as a volunteer to help revitalize the Haddon Avenue business corridor before she even held office.
After six consecutive terms, the commissioner said Friday that it’s time to hand off the next phase of that work to someone else.
“This past term, I felt it in my heart that it was going to be happening at some point,” Leonard said. “I want to open the doors for other people, and younger people. I want to still stay involved, but in a less official way.”
For a local resident who wasn’t particularly politically minded, Leonard’s participation in the borough government grew out of her advocacy for community restoration. Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley recalls her surprise when he invited Leonard to run with him on the basis of that interest in 1997.
“She’s really evolved into taking that activism and rolling it into official action,” Maley said. “It’s been a long time. It’s great to reminisce and think about it.”
Leonard’s efforts to rehabilitate the borough downtown helped cement “everybody’s first impression of our town,” he said, which was “that everything looked great.”
“It’s quite a legacy,” Maley said.
Like many families who find their way into Collingswood, Leonard was living in Philadelphia in 1986 when she was first introduced to the community.
A native of Queens, she and her husband, Tom, had “moved to Philly as teenagers,” where they attended the University of Pennsylvania, and got married at 21.
“We loved West Philly and Center City and Broad Street,” she said.
“When we were having kids, we just wanted to have a little more quiet parks, and when we came here, we said, ‘This is it.’
“I didn’t know that I would ever live in New Jersey until I found Collingswood,” Leonard said. “I am very full in my heart that young people are coming over and finding it.”
Commissioner Rob Lewandowski, who has served with Leonard on the borough government since 2016, said his family was one of those who was drawn to Collingswood because of the success of her efforts to help improve the community.
“I didn’t know Joan when I moved here, but I moved here because of a vibrant downtown that Joan helped create,” Lewandowski said. “I’ve been a beneficiary of the work that she has done for two decades, and that continues to blossom and benefit all the residents, from those who’ve been here for generations to the newest family moving in.”
Leonard’s retirement date has yet to be determined; either way, the commissioner says she has no intention of departing from the community soon, in body or spirit.
“Living here with family and my work, it was all just part of what we do, and I love that,” she said.
“I’m hoping there’s some up-and-coming person who wants to do the same.”
Maley and Lewandowski will seek re-election in the spring, when their terms expire.
The mayor said the commission will not appoint a replacement for Leonard if she vacates the office before her term expires in May; however, the duo is opening up its Team Collingswood ticket to offers of interest from throughout the borough.
“We’re going to urge people that would like to be involved to send something to us,” the mayor said. “Rob and I will talk to people, and try to make a selection for somebody who brings a different perspective in. We’re looking forward to the process.”
Lewandowski hopes the process of seeking a new running mate will “open up the opportunity to talk to people who would get involved [in Collingswood] in a million different ways.
“We have other boards and commissions, and the hope is that we don’t just find a replacement for Joan Leonard, but that we can find a lot of people who have interests in making Collingswood a better place to be,” he said.
As she reflects on her years in local government, Leonard said she feels “nothing but good.
“The town is my extended family,” she said.
“Seeing the success of the business district, all the people who helped us; there’s just so much to be proud of,” Leonard said.
“I’m sad because I love my work, and happy because I think it’s time [to leave].”
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