State Sen. Daylin Leach’s bid for a fourth term representing District 17 was soundly defeated in the June 6 Pennsylvania primary election.
Amanda Cappelletti, formerly of Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, bested Leach by winning more than 60% of the vote. In November, Cappelletti will take on Republican Ellen Fisher in a battle for a seat that hasn’t been held by three consecutive Democrats since the 1830s. Cappelletti, a lawyer from Boyertown, said she’s looking forward to the challenge.
Leach, in his post-election statement on Facebook, did not make explicit reference to the sexual misconduct allegations that dogged the latter part of his political career. Rather, he characteristically joked around, praised his staff effusively and expressed sadness at the lack of camaraderie, joy or productivity in the state legislature.
Though he considered stepping down at the end of his term, he wrote, he felt compelled to run, “in part for self-vindication, and in part to vindicate verities like due process, the importance of truth and basic fairness, and in defiance of the prevailing cancel-culture and weaponization of issues that I felt was poisoning not only politics, but society writ large.”
Leach started grappling with accusations of sexual harassment and inappropriate touching in December 2017, when The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article detailing allegations that Leach had “for years engaged in questionable behavior with young female staffers and volunteers, from highly sexualized jokes and comments to touching they deemed inappropriate.”
Leach denies that he has “ever engaged in any behavior that could be called sexual harassment, predatory, discriminatory or illegal.”
In June 2019 Leach released a summary of the initial draft of a report detailing the investigation into nine allegations made against him. The investigation was conducted by the law firm Eckert Seamans.
The initial draft concluded that seven of the allegations did not definitively constitute actionable sexual assault or harassment. It did state that Leach’s conduct could contribute to claims of a hostile work environment, and also concluded that in the case of one allegation, Leach had “engaged in inappropriate conduct towards colleagues in the Senate” that “may rise to the level of workplace harassment if unabated.”
Of the ninth and most serious allegation, that Leach sexually assaulted a woman in 1991 when she was 17, the report noted “certain factual inconsistencies” in her account. It also noted that she “steadfastly believed her account of what transpired — her testimony on this point was detailed and passionate.”
Leach has denied the assault allegation on multiple occasions.
After the initial draft of the report was made public, several Senate Democrats pressed for a broader investigation, again by Eckert Seamans. A subsequent report, released in September 2019, concluded that, “while we found no evidence of sexual harassment in regards to any particular individual, we note that Sen. Leach engaged in joking and humor that was immature and unprofessional.”
“We conclude that there is no evidence of actionable discrimination or harassment in violation of applicable law or Caucus policies to the extent Caucus policies are interpreted as consistent with federal law,” it read.
Additionally, a complaint was filed against Leach to the Senate Ethics Committee, which ultimately concluded Leach’s “behavior and comments … are insufficient to constitute workplace harassment or to constitute a violation of Senate rules and policies.” The complaint was dismissed 6-0.
“Over time, there will be opportunities for people to know more about it than they know now,” Leach said of the allegations.
In the meantime, he said, he’ll “swing through” the end of his term, “continue projects I’m working on, continue serving constituents, continue doing my job.”
He has no plans to run for office again.
“It’s not a job that, at least, I’ve enjoyed for a while, day-to-day,” he said. “Every once in a while you have a victory, or something that sustains you, but day-to-day, it’s not a particularly fun job.”
Leach hopes to spend some time writing about his time in Harrisburg, maybe do some comedy and possibly make a foray into cannabis industry consulting. Leach believes his bipartisan medical marijuana legalization bill, signed into law in 2016, was “the most consequential piece of social legislation we’ve passed in 30 years.”
“Objectively, I think I have a very good record,” Leach added, citing his work to stymie human trafficking, defeat an anti-gun control measure and increase access to contraceptives, for starters. “I accomplished more than virtually any other senator, especially within the minority.”
Supporters and even some opponents lauded his effectiveness as well.
Marcel Groen, former chair of the Pennsylvania Democratic Committee, said that Leach “was a really good legislator, the best that we had, quite frankly.”
Even Cappelletti told KYW Newsradio that she would bring “that same progressive point of view” to Harrisburg, and be someone that her colleagues wanted to work with.
“I don’t think you can take away the progressive voice that he was, but I don’t think you can take away what has happened in the past few years, either,” Cappelletti said. Of his record, she added, “It’s always going to be a mixed bag.”
The allegations against Leach also fostered tensions within the Montgomery County Democratic Party, according to Sara Atkins, a Democratic committeeperson for Lower Merion 14-3. She said Leach’s “behavior, his actions, the words he chose were always constantly coming up,” which made it harder to campaign for other Democratic candidates.
“It’s hard to say we’re standing up for the right things when we’re not standing up against his behavior,” Atkins added.
Joe Foster, chair of the Montgomery County Democratic Party, said that Leach’s defeat is the end of “an unfortunate chapter” in the party’s history.
For his part, Leach believes there will be a reckoning for the “overcorrection” of the #MeToo movement — though he acknowledges that there were certainly corrections that needed to be made.
“At a certain point,” he said, “there needs to be like, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, where not everyone who did anything that was insensitive during apartheid was banished, but rather, they talked about it, there was healing, there was apology, then the people moved on with their lives.”