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PHOENIXVILLE — After winning four straight mayoral elections and being involved with politics in the borough since the 1970s, Leo Scoda announced at Tuesday’s borough council meeting that he will not seek a fifth term.
“Somebody once said, ‘Voting against Leo is like voting against Santa Claus,’” Councilman David Gautreau said following the meeting.
Scoda, who will soon turn 71, served on council for a total of eight years in two terms and also worked on the borough’s Zoning Board of Adjustment in addition to serving as mayor for 16 years.
“I was beginning to hear from people, both Democrat and Republican, who were thinking of running (for mayor), and I thought this may be the right time to clear the air,” Scoda said. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m not running.”
Scoda read a written statement before the council during his mayoral report. In the statement, he expressed pride in the “highly trained and experienced” police department, attributing “much of that success” to the chiefs he’s worked with, John Kalavik and the borough’s current top cop, William Mossman.
After Scoda finished, council president Rich Kirkner said that Scoda’s announcement would be a “tough act to follow.”
“I remember when he ran 16 years ago, it was the first time I ran (for council),” Kirkner said. “His big thing was, ‘Bring back the bike cops.’ He really built up the bicycle police force. And he brought in the 12-hour shifts.”
Kirkner also credited Scoda for helping create a sense of professionalism and experience in the borough’s police department.
Along with his police accomplishments, Kirkner said, Scoda was one of the champions of securing a new borough hall.
“He’s been a great ambassador,” Kirkner said. “He’s been more than a figurehead.”
Gautreau also called Scoda an ambassador to the community.
“His official role is to be the ambassador of the police department, but he is really the ambassador of our town,” he said.
Scoda’s mayoral reports have been typically full of the community events he attends throughout the borough and or detailing the work of local residents.
His reports have also been supplemented by other things such as the details of a trip to Harrisburg on behalf of the borough over concerns of legislative redistricting.
The Clinic, which provides healthcare to those without health insurance, counts Scoda as one of its key allies when it first got started.
“Everybody knows him,” said Mike Speck. “He’s taken a large part in the Democratic party, he’s taken a leadership role in a lot of ways...but in his main duties in the police department, we have a police department that is well-respected throughout the community.”
The mayor’s love for the town is palpable. He’s always ready to suggest a new event or attraction to check out in the borough.
Scoda came to Phoenixville in 1963. He said that when he first came to town, he noted the bustling downtown section with a variety of businesses. However, in the 1970s and 1980s, he said, the borough took a downturn as some of the companies that defined the small industrial town left.
Through it, though, he noted the town’s resilience.
“Even then, I never saw any ‘For Sale’ signs,” he said. “People kept their houses, they kept up their houses.”
Sitting in his office adorned with pictures of George Washington, Harry Truman (his favorite president), JFK, and Hubert Humphrey, Scoda recounted the willingness and the help of the community to move toward the renaissance the borough has experienced.
He remembered standing on Bridge Street when he was first elected mayor and looking down the main thoroughfare.
“There were people selling drugs out in the open, prostitution, people falling out of bars drunk,” he said. “I thought, ‘How can you make a downtown out of this?’”
Scoda said the police department played a huge role in bringing the town back to prominence, taking care of a large part of the overwhelming drug issues the town faced. Other problems in the town were dealt with by the strong sense of community. Scoda especially credits the borough’s churches during the tough periods.
“Believe me, it didn’t happen overnight, taking care of those problems,” he said.
Although he recognizes there are still issues to be dealt with, and that drug problems are still present, he said the fact that young families are moving into the area and residents are excited to be where they are bodes well.
“There’s a lot of pluses to look at,” Scoda said.
Speck, who counts Scoda as a mentor, will look to succeed him as mayor in the next election. Another name widely rumored to be interested in running for the seat is one of Scoda’s former challengers, Ken Buckwalter.
Gautreau, on the other hand, said he’s heard his name in connection with running for the office, but has no such aspirations for the coming election.
Scoda said he’s in his 50th year of coaching tennis in the PHoenixville Area School District. He also spent 35 years teaching science in the district, retiring in 1998.
As his time in the Phoenixvile’s mayor’s office wraps up, he said he’s looking forward to more easily spending time with his seven grandchildren.
“I love spending time with them,” he said, displaying a framed picture of them on his desk that sits next to a small American flag.
He’s also looking to travel a little more, especially to Europe.
But he’s by no means trudging to the finish line, speaking passionately on gun issues just prior to reading his prepared statement in the meeting.
“It’s been an interesting experience (and ) I have one year to go,” Scoda said. “One thing I really enjoyed is being out in the public.”
Being out in the public as much as possible is something Scoda said the new mayor of PHoenixville, whoever it may be, should attempt to do.
“People never don’t know you,” he said. “They either know you or they know of you. So you have to get out there.”