Lifelong Doylestown resident Ron Strouse found out a little after 9 p. m. Nov. 5 that he would be his town’s new mayor. But, an even bigger surprise came when he learned he was the first openly gay mayor elected in the Keystone State.
Strouse, 65, was born and raised in Doylestown and attended Central Bucks High School before earning his bachelor’s degree from American University in Washington, D.C. After college, he worked as chief of staff for a local Congressman and went on to own and operate two restaurants in the Doylestown area with his partner of 38 years.
His next step is to prepare to take the helm of Doylestown.
Strouse said he was inspired to run for mayor through his involvement in his local community. He currently serves as chair of the Doylestown Revitalization Board and the Doylestown Human Relations Commission, which was established three years ago as the town adopted an LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination ordinance. He has also served as the president of the board of the County Theater, the Bucks County Tourist Commission and Planned Parenthood of Bucks County.
“It seemed like a natural extension of my involvement with the community,” he said. “When the current mayor, Libby White, announced her retirement, I was approached and I liked the idea.”
White, a Democrat, was mayor since 2005.
Strouse, who ran on the Democrat ticket, said his sexual orientation was not a campaign issue, either with his Republican opponent or residents on the campaign trail.
“I would describe myself as a candidate who is gay, rather than a gay candidate. It is a part of who I am,” he said. “Maybe that is an indication of the nature of the community but then again, Doylestown is an extraordinary place.”
In his personal life, Strouse said, he faced little conflict with his friends and family when he came out.
“I guess it was gradual and without confrontation. I’ve had a partner for 38 years and so when you live with your partner, your family gets to understand what the situation is and that has always been the case,” he said.
Strouse said Doylestown was full of energy the day of the election, and that both parties were eager to work against the low-voter turnout expected across the state.
“Doylestown has been trending Democratic but only for the last eight-nine years and had been a traditionally Republican town,” he said. “I think it was safe to say that the Democrats saw an opportunity and the Republicans saw a challenge. It was a get-out-the-vote effort and both parties put in a lot of effort.”
Strouse plans to maintain Doylestown’s flourishing vitality.
“Doylestown isn’t about change because it is already an exceptional place, so it is about meeting the challenges,” he said.
Among the challenges will be a focus on community safety.
Doylestown’s police department is transitioning to a regional department, a process that has been a year in the making.
“This is a good thing. It provides us the opportunity to have a more specialized and professional police department,” Strouse said. “The challenge is when you get a new police department, you need to find a way for it to relate to the community and still have a community-based feel and maybe that includes the introduction of a bicycle patrol in that area. It involves getting the policemen out of their car and into their community.”
Strouse plans to keep that same sentiment in mind during his mayoral tenure.
“I have an office in Borough Hall — I don’t need it. I can meet people at The Zen Den, a local coffee shop in town. Doylestown is getting a new food co-op. It is a great asset to the town. That is the kind of opportunity for the mayor to interact with people in town,” he said, noting he plans to further expand his nonprofit involvement to engage his constituents. “Being involved in those organizations and going to those meetings involves you with all sorts of people who live, care and are involved with the borough. You don’t need to have office hours, you just need to be physically available.”
Strouse noted that Doylestown has been a leader in LGBT policies. The town was among a wave of municipalities to enact an LGBT nondiscrimination ordinance in 2010.
He said the Human Relations Commission has not yet fielded any complaints of violations of the law, but believes its leadership has inspired other local municipalities to follow suit.
While Doylestown has already been a leader in LGBT efforts, having openly LGBT leadership will further help the area capitalize on the strengths and skills of its diverse group of residents.
“What makes a community strong is the diversity of the community and different backgrounds, talents and perspectives that people bring to the table,” Strouse said. “To exclude a group of people is to weaken the whole structure. Including LGBT people will strengthen our community and our state.”
Strouse said being elected as Pennsylvania’s first openly gay mayor is both an honor and a challenge. But he plans to represent both the LGBT community and his Doylestown roots.
“Any kind of background you bring to the office, you want to honor. You want to do the best you can and do a good job because it reflects and, in my case, because I am a gay man, it reflects on the LGBT community. I have a responsibility and a challenge to do that,” he said. “I act in the interest of the community and I think in my case, it takes those actions where I can have a positive influence. I am not going to get involved in the civil war in Syria. I can’t affect it. But on other issues, like civil rights and gay rights, if I can move those forward, I think they are in the interest of Doylestown.”