D.C. Council candidate Leon Swain Jr. is sharpening his message at candidates forums and debates, telling voters in Cleveland Park Thursday night that it’s time to put “a cop” on the council to expose what he described as rampant corruption in the government.
In a passionate opening statement that appeared to win over some voters, Swain, a candidate for an at-large seat, recounted how he went undercover when he was head of the D.C. Taxi Cab Commission to help the FBI break up a pay to play scheme, which resulted in the conviction of council member Jim Graham’s (D-Ward 1) former chief of staff, Ted Loza. Swain left the commission job last year.
“That let me know first hand, what corruption looks like in this city,” Swain said during the forum at the Cleveland Park Library. “We arrested 40 people… That is the tip of the iceberg. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk to a lot of different agencies and a lot of agencies are saying the same thing, they have issues there.”
Swain, a District native who says he was one of the first police cadets in the District, added he’s “the last person” that other council members want in the John A. Wilson Building.
“I have no compulsion whatsoever for seeing people locked up for committing crimes,” said Swain, who was a police officer before going to work for the city government. “I have zero tolerance for people who steal. I have zero tolerance for people who stand by and watch people steal.”
In a biting rebuke of the current council, Swain then suggested that other council members may have known that former council member Harry Thomas Jr. (D-Ward 5) had stolen more than $300,000 from city taxpayers.
“It just doesn’t happen overnight,” Swain said. “It’s just not $50 that you pick up off the coffee table and stick in your pocket. If a guy comes to work and he can’t buy a happy meal and the next day, he’s got a $13,000 motorcycle, and that after that he’s wearing $2,500 suits, I’d think, ‘something is going on’.”
“We need to clean out the Wilson Building,” Swain added. “You’ve had preachers on the city council, you’ve had lawyers on the city council, you’ve had secretaries. You need a cop on the city council.”
Swain made his spirited introduction to Cleveland Park residents, many of whom nodded in agreement as he spoke, before any of them knew that he would be endorsed by the Washington Post that evening. In past elections, the Post endorsement has carried particular weight in Ward 3.
But Swain, a resident of Ward 8, has been conducting a relatively low-budget, low-visibility campaign.
According to campaign finance reports filed Oct 10, Swain reported just $9,114 in the bank to spend on his campaign, less than one-sixth of what another challenger, Independent David Grosso, reported in the bank.
Swain isn’t the only candidate in the race hoping his sharp tongue makes up for his limited resources.
During the forum, sponsored by the Cleveland Park Civic Association, Independent A.J. Cooper challenged council member Vincent B. Orange’s (D) claim that he’s been a leader in reforming District ethics policies.
“I think it’s laughable it’s taken someone eight years to actually propose a bill, and I think it’s laughable that it’s Vincent Orange proposing the bill,” said Cooper, a policy director at the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “I’ve lived in Ward 5 all of my life and the people in Ward 5 don’t like Vincent Orange, and don’t trust Vincent Orange, and we believe that he is a corrupt politician.”
Orange shot back, “The problem with Mr. Cooper is he never gets his facts straight.”
“To say that Ward 5 hates me, Ward 5 put me back into office,” said Orange, noting he’s easily carried Northeast when he won the special election for the at-large seat last year. “Your facts are completely wrong. I was not on the council for the past for four years, and when I came back, that is when all these ethical issues started and I introduced legislation to address what is happening now.”
During the remainder of the forum, the candidates broadly agreed in the need for more neighborhood participation in zoning decisions, mandating an ample supply of parking for new development and urged caution before the council revises the city law outlining city regulations for how condominiums are organized and governed.
At the conclusion of the forum, all seven candidates in the at-large race got to outline what they view as a chief concern facing the District.
Republican Mary Brooks Beatty, a former Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, cited the need for contracting reform so council members have less role in the process.
Cooper spoke about the need for more comprehensive strategies to address poverty.
Grosso, an attorney from Brookland also endorsed by the Washington Post, said the city needs to focus on combatting crime.
Orange and Swain cited high unemployment. Incumbent Michael A. Brown, an independent seeking a second-term, said the city needs to do more to improve neighborhood schools.
Statehood Green Party Anne C. Wilcox, and attorney and former school board member, said the city leaders need to focus more energy on combatting youth crime.
Voters in the Nov. 6 election can vote up for up to two candidates in the at-large race, and the top two voter- getters will be elected.