In a dramatic turn in his three-month federal bribery trial, former Dallas Mayor Pro-Tem Don Hill took the stand late Thursday, declaring he ran for public office to "make a difference."
In the biggest corruption trial in Dallas history, Hill and his associates are accused of shaking down developers for bribes in multi-million dollar public housing deals.
Hill's attorney began by asking him not about the charges against him, but about his background.
Hill testified he did well in high school and won a college scholarship to play football before attending law school.
"I've always been an 'A' and 'B' student," Hill said. "It was a good life... Sports and academics kept me balanced."
Appearing calm and looking straight at the jury, he testified he always wanted to be a civil rights attorney and took his first job at the U.S. Department of Labor in Dallas, enforcing federal laws on affirmative action.
"I wanted to get as much experience as I could and do what I wanted to do all my life," he said. "It was a very rewarding experience."
Hill then started a private law firm, but left after he was elected to the city council in 2000.
"I really thought that I could do both, but you don't have any idea of the demands of the time," Hill testified.
He said he quickly got interested in economic development in southern Dallas.
"I really felt in our city, we had been lagging so long, it was time for me to get off the sidelines... and get involved," he said. "Let me see what I could do to make a difference."
He also testified about some of his accomplishments as a council member, including the development of an inland port near Interstate 20 and Interstate 45.
"It's projected that within 20 or 30 years, you'll have 50,000 to 60,000 jobs in that area," he said.
He also described how he fought with former Mayor Laura Miller to defeat a strong-mayor form of government. He said the change would not have helped minority sections of Dallas.
"They give me the credit, but it was a whole bunch of people who got that done," he said.
The bribery case originally involved more than a dozen defendants, but many of them accepted plea bargains and agreed to testify against Hill and the others.
Before taking the stand, U.S. District Judge Barbara Lynn advised Hill of his constitutional right not to testify.
Hill only had the opportunity to testify for a little more than an hour before the judge adjourned for the day. His testimony was set to continue on Friday.