WOULD YOU BYE A USED KLAHR?THE CHOICE FOR COUNTY ATTORNEY IS BETWEEN AN EX-HEAD-SHOP OWNER AND AN EX-CRACK-BAR OVERLORD

Gary Peter Klahr is talking.
This is not one of those toss-the-reader-into-the-action, New Journalism leads. It is a statement of fact. No matter when or where you happen to be reading that first sentence, Gary Peter Klahr--Rick Romley's only competition in Tuesday's election for Maricopa County Attorney--is talking.

The reason I think I can win is that this is the first race I've been in--out of 14--where my opponent's negatives are higher than mine.

You know, this race looks more and more like the one time I won in a contested race, 73, city council. That was the year of Watergate, the year they wanted change. It was right after Agnew resigned and the whole nine yards. The special prosecutor was fired. Perfect timing. You know what happened: The establishment people stayed home. The turnout was the lowest in history, 22 percent, and they didn't care. 'Let em have Klahr, the city deserves him.' That type of thing. I have a feeling that the fear of me is down, the fear of him is up and the apathy feeling is up.

A conversation with Klahr is something like being stuck in an elevator with a hyperactive saxophonist. Klahr fills the air with sheets of sound. Klahr riffs. Klahr honks. Wild ideas and strong opinions and brazen statements erupt, then subside. Then erupt again.

To set Klahr's quotes in type dims their sonic impact. When reading a Klahr transcription, mentally round all the Rs and delete all the spaces between the words, all the punctuation, most of the vowels and all pauses for breathing.

The vexing thing about Klahr's words is that they make sense more often than they are merely loony. He understands Arizona politics as well as anyone, anywhere. The problem is that the words come in torrents, crowding up against one another as his lips rush to hold the pace set by the hard drive between his ears.

Klahr: I don't know what Romley's plan is. He apparently thinks he has nothing to worry about. He thinks I'm a pesky fly to be swatted away. The man has no shame. He feels he's had an outstanding administration. He feels there shouldn't be any question he'll be reelected. He thinks it's one of the most outstanding county attorney's offices in United States history! He said that!

New Times: Really?
Klahr: Almost.

Gary Peter Klahr is running for county attorney because nobody else was willing to take on Rick Romley, who has had an ignominious four years in the office. Romley studied at the feet of Tom Collins (his equally hapless predecessor) while licking the boots of Charles Keating (whose family and friends gave thousands of dollars to Romley's 1988 campaign), then went on to preside over a task force that busts pot smokers at rock concerts.

He's also the man responsible for AzScam, the flashy legislative corruption sting that netted such political small fry as state legislators Sue Laybe and Chuy "The Shrimp" Higuera. AzScam also made a media sensation out of a Fremont Street hood ornament named Joe Stedino.

It is vulnerable-incumbent season. To this Republican hunt the local Democratic machine sends Gary Peter Klahr, who, despite a long record of running for things, is far from the ideal candidate. He dresses shabbily, talks too fast and carries a portfolio of contentious and impolitic public utterances that transcends even the Evan Mecham Collection. The local media have written off Klahr and Mecham as perennial losers for decades.

Klahr is a compulsive authority questioner, a tireless civil libertarian, an inveterate letter-to-the-editor writer. He was a child star on local television 40 years ago, helped revolutionize Phoenix's city government 20 years ago and now practices law out of a tiny dump of an office on West McDowell Road.

This fall, not for the first time, he wants to be Maricopa County attorney. Or, rather, he doesn't want Rick Romley to be county attorney anymore.

"The basic problem with Romley is that he's a politician, first, last and always," says Klahr, who has lost 12 elections over the years. "The thing about Romley that is really scary is that he's scary. You cannot entrust the prosecutor's job to a scary person who can go off the deep end."

I really like the guy in the sense that he's nice to me personally and so forth. The problem with him is he is very, very condescending. He keeps saying, 'You don't understand this, Klahr. You've never been a prosecutor.' Can you imagine him putting me down? I was in politics when he was a baby! I've been in politics since I was 10 years old! That's what really offends me. 'You don't understand these complicated things.' Pat me on the head. 'Nice little boy' or something.

Rick Romley refused to be interviewed for this article, so it was impossible for New Times to capture the usual notebook full of campaign platitudes about what a dandy job Romley would say he's doing. Romley's record in office--from the heavy-handed Do Drugs/Do Time pot busts through his financial interest in a notorious West Van Buren crack bar to the fumbled hand-off in the Temple murders case to the AzScam sting's blatant targeting of political foes--will have to speak for itself. A primer:

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