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Barras: A law enforcer on the council?

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Local,DC,Jonetta Rose Barras

"I'm not afraid to take the hard positions," declared Leon J. Swain Jr. "I'm going to stand for what's right."

There is little doubt about the veracity of that declaration.

In 2007, a taxi owner attempted to bribe Swain, offering the then-chairman of the DC Taxicab Commission $20,000 for licenses. Swain alerted the police and became a key figure in an FBI string. In 2009, the feds snagged dozens of drivers and owners as well as Ted Loza, then-chief of staff for D.C. Councilman Jim Graham.

Proving no good deed goes unpunished, in 2011, a few months after becoming mayor, Vincent C. Gray fired Swain.

Now the third-generation Washingtonian and Ward 8 resident is hoping to parley his incorruptible reputation into a seat on the city council. A registered independent, he's one of several candidates -- independents A.J. Cooper and David Grosso Republican Mary Beatty and Statehood Green Party Ann Wilcox -- running in the Nov. 6 general election against incumbents Michael Brown, I, and Vincent Orange, D.

The top two vote-getters will be declared winners. The city's constitution mandates one of those individuals must be from the nonmajority party. That directive does not prohibit voters from selecting two candidates from outside the dominant political party, however.

"Integrity and ethics are big parts of this election," Swain recently told me. "We know who Michael Brown is. We know who Vincent Orange is. If [residents] want change, then they have to vote for change."

Swain certainly deserves accolades for his taxi commission tenure, his stint as Greater Southeast Hospital board member and his 18 years in the city's police department. But is he ready to join the legislature?

"Public service for me is like Christmas," said Swain. "I love Christmas because I am able to give stuff."

One of six children born to a single mother, he said his hardscrabble beginnings provide him an intimate understanding of issues affecting residents, particularly the poor and working class. "I know what it's like to be hungry; I know what it is to have one pair of shoes that have to last you for the whole year."

Swain has been advocating for "very strong job training programs" and a critical examination of traditional public and charter schools. "We need to take the best out of both and replicate them throughout the system." He also has focused on helping families facing foreclosure: "We have a $1.1 billion fund balance. We need to sit down and talk about how to better use that money," he added.

Talk of raiding the city's reserves sounds like the spendthrifts currently on the council. His anti-corruption platform may be his strongest draw.

"You need an old cop who is not going to take any mess from anyone," said Swain, suggesting his presence could have a chilling effect on future wrongdoing.

That may be true. But U.S. Attorney Ronald C. Machen Jr. already has been cast as "the chiller."

Jonetta Rose Barras can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

Jonetta Rose Barras' column appears on Tuesday and Friday. She can be reached at jonetta@jonettarosebarras.com.

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