Benson man is 'regular guy' hoping to win House seat
BENSON — At age 76, Richard “Sensei” Lenchus could probably still flatten most men half his age. He’s earned more martial arts awards and titles than just about anyone.
But Lenchus, who these days is a professional architect, is now involved in a different kind of clash — in the political arena. And this time he won’t be scored on the number of blows or takedowns he lands. His judges on Nov. 3 will be voters in the Addison-Rutland House district, which Lenchus hopes to represent in Montpelier for the next two years.
He’s in a three-person race that includes incumbent Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, and Shoreham Democrat Ruth Shattuck Bernstein. The Addison-Rutland district includes the towns of Shoreham, Orwell, Whiting and Benson.
Lenchus gravitated to martial arts at age 10, after having been beaten up by some neighborhood toughs in Richmond, Calif., simply for being Jewish.
A Hawaiian man noticed the abuse and asked him, “Didn’t your father teach you how to fight?”
When Lenchus explained that his father has deserted the family, the man — who he later learned was a grand master in Kembo Karate — invited him to come to his house three times a week after school to learn how to fight.
If you think it sounds like a story pulled from the “Karate Kid” movie, it’s pretty much the opposite. The “Karate Kid” was in part inspired by Lenchus’s life. Robert Kamen, who wrote the movie, was one of Lenchus’s students.
“From that day on, I became very good,” Lenchus said of his training since age 10.
And he’s being modest. His resume includes an abundance of national and international titles, trophies and accolades. Grand Master of Martial Arts and recognized founding father and pioneer of American Martial Arts. He’s a 10th-degree Black Belt, author of six books on martial arts. He was named to the World Professional Martial Arts Hall of Fame 1986.
Lenchus and his wife moved to Benson 32 years ago.
“I’m a regular guy; I’m not a politician, and I don’t belong to any party,” Lenchus, who is running independent, said during a recent phone interview.
He said he’s running as an independent because it exemplifies his history of voting for individuals, as opposed to along party lines. Lenchus is self-funding his campaign.
“If the person I feel is a good person who is working on behalf of the community, then I’ll back them,” he said. “If I feel the person is doing it just for ego or extra bucks, I want nothing to do with them.”
Lenchus, who served as a U.S. Marine Corps jet pilot during the Vietnam War, is drawing inspiration from his own life to guide him through his path into Vermont politics.
As an architect, he said he’s designed many buildings for the New York City school system. During that process, he’s taken care to design building plans to make sure students of all ages are safe and able to perform to their best ability.
He places a premium on ensuring schools are safe places to learn. He’s dealt with lead in drinking water and asbestos in walls, ceilings and floors. Lenchus recommended that Vermont take a page out of the NYC playbook: Have trailers at the ready in case school buildings can’t make the grade.
Lenchus believes some physicians are too eager to prescribe medications that he said can lead to addiction and a major, lifelong expense. He’s concerned about the price of medications, which can vary from pharmacy to pharmacy, he said.
“I want to make sure that the pharmaceutical companies don’t charge senior citizens, or people desperately in need of drugs to stay alive, more than their Social Security or food budgets,” he said. “They shouldn’t have to choose between their food and a pill to stay alive. That’s ridiculous.”
Lenchus believes agriculture could play a big role in getting young people to stay, or move to, Vermont.
“Instead of offering kids $10,000 to come to Vermont, you take city kids and bring them up here and give them paid internships with a farmer,” he said. “Let them bail hay, milk cows and work the land. When they get dirt on their hands, they’ll never want to leave.”
He said schools should return to the days of imparting skills in the trades.
“You don’t need 1,000 degrees to be somebody,” he said. “How about a carpenter, electrician, plumber, or a person who can paint a house?”
Lenchus, who spent six years as an auxiliary police officer in New York City and New Jersey, doesn’t support defunding law enforcement. Instead, he thinks officers should receive broader training on how to deal with people of all walks of life.
“I didn’t carry a gun,” he said of his experience as an officer. “When I caught people I walked and talked them to jail.”
He supports the Black Lives Matter movement.
“Absolutely, Black lives matter,” he said. “All we’re saying is if we matter, all lives matter. Nobody asked to be born Black or white, male or female, Jewish or Catholic. Whoever you are, you should be able to stand tall and not have to worry about walking down the street and have someone beat you up because you’re different than they are.”
The Addison Independent pre-election coverage has included one-on-one interviews with this year’s challengers, responses from a comprehensive questionnaire offered to all candidates, and support of the Addison County Chamber of Commerce’s virtual debates. The newspaper also offered incumbents the opportunity to submit legislative commentaries throughout the past biennium.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.