A former FBI informant who helped break up a corruption ring in the city’s taxicab industry plans to run for the D.C. Council this fall on a platform of cleaning up the ethical messes in the John A. Wilson Building.
Leon Swain Jr., the former chairman of the D.C. Taxi Commission, picked up nominating petitions Friday morning at the Board of Elections and Ethics to run as an independent candidate in the Nov. 6 election.
Swain, 59, said in an interview his undercover work for the FBI convinced him that the city needs elected officials with more integrity and stronger voices against corruption in government.
“After a lot of things I have seen down at the city council and a lot of things I have seen in the city, a lot of people have come up and asked me to run,” said Swain, a former Democrat who lives in Congress Heights. “I prayed about it, thought about it, and decided to enter the race.
In April, Washington Post reporter Del Wilber chronicled how Swain went undercover while serving as head of the Taxi Commission to help the FBI break up a scheme where cab operators were attempting to trade cash for licenses.
Swain, a former police officer, often wore a wire and accepted more than $250,000 help the FBI build a case against more than three dozen businessman and taxi drivers and operators.
Swain said he believes his work for the FBI, which ended in 2009, helped convince the U.S. Attorney’s Office to more aggressively examine public corruption in the city.
Since then, he notes, federal authorities have convicted former Council member Harry Thomas Jr. for stealing from taxpayers and former council chairman Kwame R. Brown for fraudulently obtaining two loans. The U.S. Attorneys Office is also investigating Mayor Vincent C. Gray’s (D) 2010 campaign.
“A lot of the corruption started to come to light after the taxicab corruption became public,” Swain said. “I have been approached by a number of people who think its time for us to change some of the dynamics on the council.”
Swain served as chairman of the Taxicab Commission from 2007 until 2011, when Gray fired him. During his tenure, he oversaw the transition from zone to metered cabs in the District.
Swain briefly challenged Marion Barry (D) for the Ward 8 council seat in 2004, but dropped out of the race long before election day. If he collects enough signatures to make the ballot this year, Swain will face incumbent council members Vincent B. Orange (D) and Michael A. Brown (I) for one of two at-large seats on the ballot this year.
As the Democratic nominee, Orange will be heavily favored to win one of the seats.
Swain’s real target may be Brown, who currently holds one of the two council seats reserved for a member of the minority party. David Grosso, an attorney who lives in Brookland, is also an independent in the race. Mary Brooks Beatty is the Republican nominee. Attorney Ann Wilcox is the green party nominee.
In addition to ethics, Swain said his campaign would focus on improving job training and “putting in place programs to fix the middle class.”
“The middle class is taking a beating on all sides,” said Swain, who also serves as president of the Naylor Gardens Housing Cooperative.