LISTEN TO LEON SWAIN
Who walks into what is expected to be a heated meeting packing heat? No less than the chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission (DCTC). As he entered Thursday’s DCTC meeting, Leon Swain was asked if he was wearing a gun and he responded, “Of course I am.” Swain was quickly ushered away from reporters by Dena Reed, DCTC general counsel.
Ms. Reed then turned her attention to Fox 5 photojournalist Jason Smith, telling him, “If the cameras don’t leave the room, we’re not going to have the meeting.” Smith replied, “If you can explain to me the statute that says I can’t be here, I will gladly leave… but if it’s a public meeting you can’t just throw [me out].”
Ms. Reed pulled Chairman Swain out of the room to discuss how to proceed. Taxicab drivers, who had at least as many outside the cramped hearing room as in, complained to the commissioners on the dais about the lack of notice given for the meeting, an apparent violation of DCTC regulation. Commissioner Paul Cohn responded, “I love the confrontation. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. This is good.”
Thursday’s DCTC meeting came just two days after taxicab drivers were caught off guard by medallion legislation introduced by Councilmembers Harry Thomas, Michael Brown and Marion Barry. D.C.’s taxicab industry is unique in that it has a large number of independent owner/operators, as well as small companies and associations. The medallion system could threaten this by paving the way for a few big companies to move in and dominate the market, as has happened in city after city.
While Chairman Swain remained outside, debating whether to allow cameras at the public meeting, a veteran taxicab driver responded to Commissioner Cohn’s combative remarks. Larry Frankel, chairman of Dominion of Cab Drivers and The Small Business Association of DC Taxicab Drivers, said, “The crying shame of all of this is that we are sitting here and everyone else is sitting over there on your side, and there’s no meeting in between. You’ve never invited us to the table for any issue whatsoever.”