Loose Lips

Why Was Leon Swain Fired?

The unbribeable Leon Swain, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission, was fired Tuesday by the Gray administration without a mention as to why.

In a news release, Gray officials said that "City Administrator Allen Y. Lew informed Mr. Swain at close of business April 26 that he would not be reappointed and thanked him for his years of service to the Taxicab Commission and District government." Mayor Vince Gray appointed the commission's general counsel, Dena Reed, as an interim replacement while he looks for a permanent replacement.

Swain tells LL that Lew didn't give him a reason why he was being let go from his $117,000-a-year job, other than the usual boilerplate for awkward firings: “[He] just told me that the mayor was going in another direction.”

But Swain, whose undercover work for the feds a few years ago led to the arrests of 39 people in a massive bribery scheme, says he was given a warning a few months ago that he was not long for the D.C. government.

"This is all Marion Barry," Swain says. "He told me back in January that I was out."

Swain is being shown the door to make room for Novell Sullivan, who served in the same post during Barry's fourth term, according to what Swain says Barry told him.

Sullivan helped the Gray campaign mobilize support from the cab industry during the last election. From an Aug. 1 Post story:

Novell Sullivan, former head of the taxi commission, and other Gray supporters have distributed a letter Gray wrote to the city's 6,000 licensed cabdrivers two weeks ago in an attempt to address their concerns. "I have already tasked my staff with thoroughly reviewing your ideas and possible avenues for collaboration between government and industry on this critical matter," Gray wrote.

Cab drivers came out big for Gray during the primary against former Mayor Adrian Fenty, who angered cabbies when he did away with the goofy zoned system that usually left you feeling like you'd been ripped off whenever you took a cab. Swain, who was picked by Fenty to run the commission in 2007, is also not popular with the powers-that-be in the taxi industry.

When LL asked Barry about Swain's remarks, the former-mayor for life responded: "I'm not going to talk to you about that. Goodbye." Barry then hung up the phone.

Swain also tells LL that he never had a single conversation with the new mayor about the taxi industry. LL's got a question in to Gray's office about Sullivan's possible return to glory and will update as necessary.

Update: A spokeswoman for the mayor says Gray is still searching for a permanent replacement for Swain.

  • Skipper

    One City, Zero Standards!

  • Typical DC BS

    Yup, "ONE CITY" Gray hard at work moving the old-school losers in (and one backed by Barry at that) and replacing people who actually do their job correctly and ethically.

    Glad to see Gray has continued on with practice of patronage for his backers / hackers.

  • Reid

    But all of us Fenty voters are just racists for fearing that Gray is a return to The Barry years? I hope Swain runs for Ward 8 next year. This is a despicable payback to an embarrassment of an industry.

  • Keith Jarrell

    This is quickly becoming one of the worse administrations this city has seen. It is nothing short of amazing the things they are doing to people without thought to how they may be effected.
    Cutting services for the most needy residents and not being honest is just the start.
    Firing someone without reason is another one.

  • AnotherDCResident

    I'm with Reid, let's get the fucking crackhead of the council.

  • John Brown

    Whistle Blowers. And people outside of DC wonder why no-one in this Government is willing to tell the truth. This is what happens to whistle blowers.

  • Rake

    Wow, another debacle, and another relic from the early 90s to take over. What an absurd administration. So who is pulling the stings behind Vince, while he toils on his 200-day plan and plays the part of doddering middle manager? Lorrain Green? Marion Barry? It's anyone's guess.

    One City, one giant mess.

  • What the flocka???

    I have to agree with the whistle blower outlook. If this is how one rewards someone from the cab industry and DCPS then no wonder disgusts is in the air.

    Here it is a former police officer who laid down his life to protect President Reagan, who whistle-blows and other non selfish acts in a profession. And all that can be offered is that we are moving in another direction.

    One city mess...

  • SEis4ME

    And here we go again. A SCANDAL is formed because ONE person was fired and blamed it on DC's own pinata - Marion Barry. How difficult is it to blame something on him and expect people to bite? That's too easy.

    And why would the mayor need to talk to the head of the taxicab commission (of all things) when he has a deputy and other people able to do that.

    So now Alan will manufacture another "scandal" based on the rantings of yet another disgruntled official and you birthers will latch your mouths to it.

  • Rake

    Oh, I get it, SEis4ME, it's all the evil media out to get poor Vince Gray, who is doing a sterling job as mayor, if not for all these "birthers" out to get him - that's a new one. Probably inevitable, as the next four years (if that) will bring about a whole bunch of new charges / excuses for the few remaining Vince supporters to rally behind.

    Fortunately the USAOG and FBI will not be so easily persuaded, SEis4ME.

  • Richard notRich

    Hooray! I for one missed the overpay for crummy,dirty,old cabs with "speed through the lights" drivers who don't know where they are. Next up: bring back that fat ol Chief Soulsby, the one who took the hookers to the Lansburgh hotel suite he rented on dc expense

    I love this place we call home

  • SEis4ME

    Rake, in fact I don't think many of you are behaving in ways dissimilar from the birthers.

    The responses to this allegation serve as exhibit A.

    Alan said that Swain said Barry said..and from this the lunatics are chomping at the bit.

  • notaDCcommish

    Is Soulby even still alive? Either way, no doubt Gray has a job for him and his kid. It's a no brainer that Gray is going to stack the taxi commission with taxi industry people.

  • Southeast Resident

    All you folks need to stop. Every Mayor has put his folks in place on boards and commissions when terms expire. What is the big deal. They all do it. You didn't hear the Fenty appointed Chair of the Housing Authority squelling like a girl when not being re-appointed for a new term by Gray. For all the money that Swain was paid, damn right he should have done a good job. Most of those Chairs do as much or more than him for free. Well his fifteen minutes of fame are up in the normal course of business. He should just "man up." Now he is trying to stab Barry in the back. If he had not almost broken his back bending over kissing Barry's ass, Fenty would not have put him in that job in the first place. He was retired in place at MPD and was retired in place as an ANC. So now he should just retire quietly. All of you, including him, are crazy if you think that Barry can be taken on his turf.

  • Herb

    Remember how a lot of DC cabbies were offering free rides to get Gray supporters to the polls last year? They were upset with Fenty and his taxi commission chair for dragging DC cabbies kicking and screaming into the ... 1960s. Yes, cabbies are still sore about meters, so that it's no longer as easy to rip off people who didn't know the zone system (and were willing to push back), not to mention the tax man. Are you waiting for out local taxi industry to catch up to the present decad? Meaningful vehicle age rules? Information monitors in the cabs? Greener taxis? As they say in NYC, where they have all three: Fuhgeddahbouditt!

    Now, it's payback time. Our sage ex-Mayor-for-Life put it in one of his many Barryisms: "To the victors belong the spoils." One city, baby!

  • Reid

    As long as Ward 8's

  • LewisJones

    I don't do the Taxi thing anyway, not my cup of tea, really dont know much about the situation, guess I dont hold it in high regards either

  • Reid

    As long as Ward 8 thinks the only way to grow economically is to simply grow geographically, I agree, nobody is going to beat Barry. Someday I hope a new generation will see what that approach has wrought

  • usee

    As a DC Taxi Driver, I have a mixed reaction with Mr. Swan. Today, however, let me forget the unpopular side which includes the issues of abusive inspectors, failure of scheduling public meetings, failure to fix taxi fare in area standard … and let me just focus on his positive side.

    I admire Mr Swan for his crack down on criminal element of the taxi industry. He deserves the highest credit for this.

    What makes this story fishier is that, there is unofficial report circling around that Mr. Swan also is going to shut down many taxi companies which do not qualify for standard. Morever, there also is another informal report that he is going to present a counter proposal against the new Taxi Medallion Bill, DC B19-0172, , the "Professional Taxicab Standards and Medallion Act of 2011" which was introduced on March 15, 2011 by DC City Council members - Harry Thomas, Jr., Mike Brown, and Marion Barry. This bill, unfortunately, does nothing to "professionalize" the industry; rather, if passed it will dramatically reduce the number of cabs and will create a man-made shortage of transportation within the District and results in difficult time finding a cab.

    Additionally, it will place most taxicab medallions in the hands of business owners who will rent the medallions to cabdrivers, the public will carry the burden of the medallion-owners' greed as taxi fares will have to increase in order to ensure cabdrivers can afford to rent a medallion. Because if we can't afford the rent, there will be no taxis. In one neighboring jurisdiction, for instance, the cost to rent a medallion is more than $100 a day.

    In addition, the bill will also destabilize thsounds of families by pushing nearly 50 percent of all current cabdrivers out of the industry and into unemployment.

    But, it gets worse: to protect these costly changes from being challenged, the bill takes away riders' and drivers' ability to weigh in on the industry by abolishing our seats on the Taxicab Commission.

    for sure, it is a heart breaking story to miss Mr. Swan at such critical moment. But I do not lose my faith even for a moment to accept truth will fail.

  • Drez

    Swain's reputation is unimpeachable
    The administration needs to do a better job of explaining his ouster.

  • Drez

    Btw- the taxi business, fueled by untraceable and unreported cash, is among the most corrupt in this city.

  • Drez

    Watch for medallions.
    The pitch will be that they ensure clean and modern cabs.
    The reality is that they will limit competition in the industry, and protect the market share of the current cab companies.

  • Ceasar

    Marion Barry and his friends have recently proposed a new taxicab medallion Bill. According to this Bill, in order to get Medallions, individual DC residents must have operated taxicabs on or before March 1, 2006 and they must have filed tax for the last 5 years; if they are companies, they must have been in the business for the last 10 years. And DC taxicab drivers who reside in Virginia and Maryland must have operated taxicabs for the last 20 years. The Bill aims at driving out non-resident, and new, taxicab drivers out of the business, estimated to be about 4000, and creating engineered scarcity for the benefit of a few individuals and companies like Jerry Schaeffer who owns 16 companies estimated to consist, on average, of about 150 cabs. We heard that Leon Swain did not support this Bill and he was preparing a different Bill. This could be the reason that he is shown the exit door.

  • Observer

    Any Gray supporter that cannot see the truth he is in denial. Swain is being let go for snitching. Period. Gray does not need anyone else in his administration that can’t keep their mouth shut. Besides that Marion Barry & Jim Graham wanted him fired.

    We can’t chalk this up to “every mayor does this.” Pay attention to what officials were kept and which officials were let go. The heads of agencies & boards that have the most corruption were changed. Most of the others did not. DPR, DMH vs. DMPED, DCRA

    Re: Ward 8 Council seat. Marion Barry will be re-elected next year but it will be his last term. He is now trying to "broker" his seat but no one is trying to pay the piper. He will try to pass it off to his son but 2016 belongs to Trayon White. Ward 8 loves Trayon and Barry will not be able to run a smear campaign against him. Trayon’s only issue will be his donor list. Anti-Barry folks will give him a lot of money to see Barry off the Council(which won’t look good to Ward 8 residents).

  • noodlez




  • Drez

    Yeah, noodlez. Now that Swain is gone, it's a great opportunity to address taxi driver discrimination against black men. Probably the best move would be for Gray to appoint an honest black man who has a strong background in law enforcement.
    Oh, wait....

  • Observer

    @Drez - He had that in Swain. Swain proved that through his involvement in the FBI probe(that isn't complete). Swain will no longer have access to through documents. Do you think that is a coincidence? Jim Graham has more impact in this decision than people realize.

  • noodlez



  • Drez

    Ah, well, so long as firing this strong honest black man is all about fighting discrimination against black men, than I'm sure it's on the up and up.
    For a second there I had thought it was about propping up a deeply corrupt and self-serving industry.


    DC Residents have real short term memoires.
    This is not about taxicabs but PAY BACK for Leon Swain refusing to resign from the Board of Directors of United Medical Center. Mayor Gray and Chief Financial Officer, Natwar M. Gandhi, want the hospital off the city books and operating as a private hospital. Mr. Swain and the three other Fenty appointees with no expertise in hospital management refused to resign. Fenty stacked the Board before walking off into the sunset. This created a political nightmare of how to deal with the Board make-up requiring the expansion of the Board.
    While Mr. Swain has done some very respectful work in law enforcement, his leadership of the Taxicab Commission has been less than stellar. It was past time for Mr. Swain to make a graceful exit. There were a few notable right moves (meters, test restoration), but he created some of the nightmare. Swain is just another Fenty holdover that cannot accept that their service is no longer needed or wanted. Let’s all pray Mayor Gray’s choice for Chairperson has better leadership and management skills.


    Mr. Swain. Thank you for your service. We wish you well in your future endeavors.

  • Observer

    @noodlez - Don't let perfection get in the way of progress. There needs to be a balance. Acting like Swain is a failure is just wrong. It’s unfortunately that he couldn’t solve an issue that has been a part of this country’s history since inception.

  • hillman

    Awesome. I hope this comes with an app that will literally take all cab drivers back in time to the height of the Marion Barry era, so we can all experience that hell again.

    Score one for the New Marion Barry Era, retro Vincent Gray edition.

  • hillman

    One City circa 1992 - Vincent Gray, Mayor

  • gayvid blimmo

    If you black men want to be picked up, you need to stop:

    1. Robbing cab drivers.

    2. Hurting cab drivers.

    3. Killing cab drivers.

    4. Refusing to pay cab drivers.

    5. Running out on cab drivers without paying.

    6. Arguing about the fare.

    7. Trying to chisel down the fare.

    8. Being rude to cab drivers.

    9. Trying to short cab drivers on their fare.

    10. Leaving your trash in the cab.

    There's a reason nobody wants to deal with you.

  • gayvid blimmo

    Oh, and another thing. About your neighborhoods. A lot of times, it's not you that's the problem, it's what's going on where you're going.

    The thuglets hanging out in your neighborhoods throw rocks and break windshields. A windshield costs $400. The driver also loses the time he's out of business until he can get to the shop and wait for them to change the windshield. Refusal to Haul is $300.

    Then there's DeAndre, Daykwann and L'il Bustah hanging out down the street. The cab drops you off and as he pulls away, DeAndre, Daykwann and Li'l Bustah decide to go stand in the middle of the street while they debate about messing with the driver. If some other ghetto creature drives up who's bigger and badder than them, that might save the driver, since he blows his horn and yells at the thugs in the middle of the street.

    Then there's flying bullets from gangs of ghetto punks shooting at each other.

    Or maybe as you get out, Tyrone and Antwann are hanging around the front of your building and suddenly decide they "want a cab". As you're getting out, Tyrone's holding open the door so he and Antwann can get in before you can pull off. Oh, we know why Tyrone and Antwann want the cab. Deyze be needin' t' "get paid".

    When the parents, the police and the courts and the jails start doing what they're supposed to, maybe the cab drivers will start doing what they're supposed to. As long as the parents the police and the courts and the jails won't do what they're supposed to, why should the cab drivers do what they're supposed to.

    There are reasons nobody want to deal with you and good ones, too. The sooner all of you are in Pee Gee Cee, the better for everybody. You can stay there and everyone else can stay away from there, unless they really want to go there.

  • gayvid blimmo

    And one more thing. You're always crying about how bad off you are, but you always seem to have only a $50 or $100 bill. Where did you get that if you're so bad off?

    You throw the big bill at the driver hoping he'll let you go instead of wasting his time trying to get you somewhere that will actually change a bill like that. Most places won't and you and the cab driver both know that.

    If he does try to take you somewhere to get that huge bill changed, you complain and threaten him when he leaves the meter running.

    You're always trying to get over on someone. One of the reasons no one wants to deal with you.