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?
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:
While crack cocaine ravaged American cities, Romley and Phoenix Police Chief Ruben Ortega focused their troops on pot smokers, forming the Maricopa County Demand Reduction Task Force--the vaunted Do Drugs/Do Time program. The task force's most famous action was a showy bust of 30 or so marijuana users at a Paul McCartney concert at Sun Devil Stadium in April 1990. The McCartney sweep still sets the tone for the task force, which was designed to win the drug war by spooking "casual" drug users.
After two years, about 90 percent of the Do Drugs/Do Time cases were reefer-related. And only one alleged crack user had been funneled into the task force's drug-treatment program. Because the task force is funded with an untold fortune in seized drug money, neither Romley nor Ortega (who retired from the force last year) are much accountable to taxpayers.
Nearing the four-year mark in the Romley administration, can the county attorney claim success for his vanguard drug program?
For now the public's only regular measurements of the program's success are the billboards around town that tally the Do Drugs/Do Time arrest total. As this story went to press, the billboards were flashing that 18,774 Do Drugs/Do Time arrests had been made.
At the same time Romley was conducting his war on tokers, he co-held a $40,000 lien on downtown's most notorious crack den, Club 902. In 1989--the inaugural year for Do Drugs/Do Time--police made 127 arrests at the bar. Though half of those arrests were narcotics-related, Romley blithely continued to collect $800 a month on the lien. Press reports of the Romley/crack-bar connection finally forced the state to close the joint, but Romley never divested himself of a financial interest in the building.
After interrogating the daylights out of four suspects and ostensibly solving the cold-blooded murders of nine people at a Buddhist temple west of Phoenix, Sheriff Tom Agnos passed the case to Romley's office. The suspects, from Tucson, were held for two months without any physical evidence of their crimes. After weeks of confident talk about the weight of their case against the alleged perps, Romley's people had to release the Tucson men--after a couple of different suspects confessed to the murders.
Some critics (Klahr included) say Romley should have dismissed the charges against the Tucson four early on for lack of credible evidence.
While successfully and spectacularly nailing several corruptible tinhorn politicians in their million-dollar AzScam sting operation, Romley and Ortega also targeted perceived enemies. The most telling evidence of this are prosecution records that document a steak-house conversation between police stooge Stedino and Gary Bartlett, a State Capitol glad-hander who actually sparked the sting by bragging about his workable contacts with less-than-pure lawmakers.
At this February 8, 1990, meeting, in the very same breath in which Stedino pumped Bartlett for dirt on Don Kenney and Bobby Raymond (two of the slimier legislators ensnared in AzScam) he also floated the name of Michael Lacey. This was a strange flotation because Lacey, executive editor of New Times, was in no way involved with legalized gambling, the issue Stedino (as his wise-guy alter ego Tony Vincent) was pimping to various gullible elected officials.
Lacey is involved with column writing, though, which was what he was doing that very month. In fact, Lacey was hammering away at Romley's ties to Club 902. His February 7 column announced that the state liquor department was closing down the 902.
Later, during the AzScam trial of Carolyn Walker, a police detective admitted that Stedino had once been loosed upon another uptown restaurant in search of Lacey-related grease. In this instance, Stedino was instructed by Phoenix Police Detective Gary Ball to go to Richardson's bar and restaurant to check on Lacey and Corporation Commissioner Renz Jennings, who were supposedly involved in "illegal cocaine activity" there.
Stedino interrupted his righteous purging of Arizona politics to track down the rumors, which "failed to pan out," Ball testified. When questioned about motivation, Ball admitted that no written record existed of the supposed "tip" that prompted Stedino's safari to Richardson's--an odd lapse by investigators who carefully documented every turn of the AzScam trail.
It should be noted that Jennings' wife, Dianna, is chair of the county Democratic party and includes among her responsibilities identifying candidates to run against Republican officeholders. Such as Rick Romley.
One of the highlights of the AzScam trial was Superior Court Judge Michael Ryan's admonishment to Romley, after Romley had dished details of secret plea-agreement negotiations in front of a Phoenix Republican confab. Warning of the contempt citation he could level at any more boneheaded stunts, Ryan told Romley: "I don't want to see you here again; otherwise, bring your toothbrush."
Last and not least are the questions now swirling around Romley's 1988 campaign, which records show was funded by a regular rogues' gallery of investigative targets. Charles Keating and his family and friends led the list, with contributions totaling about $5,000. Robert Burns and Robert Knapp Jr., other alleged contributors to the S&L crisis, were Romley campaign benefactors. Also generous were at least ten members of the Aldabbagh strip-club organization. The Aldabbagh group was subject of an early-summer sweep by state police, a series of raids poetically dubbed Operation Aladdin. Included in the organization, tangentially at least, is Joe Romley, an Aldabbagh attorney and Rick Romley's cousin and campaign adviser.
The county attorney explains he returned patriarch Omar Aldabbagh's contribution to him (after being questioned about it by a reporter) long before the sweep of the nudie clubs, but kept the money donated by the others until after the uncorking of Operation Aladdin.
Because of heat brought by Klahr late in the campaign, Romley has said he'll eventually try to scrape up whatever money he got from the likes of Mary Elaine Keating and others in her husband's orbit and give that to the Red Cross--if he has any cash left over after this campaign. For now, he explains away the Keating money by saying, "I didn't have a crystal ball."
Surely there are positive things to say about Rick Romley's job performance as county attorney. But he wouldn't say them to us.
The fact remains that almost all of the important public cases handled by Romley's office seem to have been flubbed.
Klahr has been firing away at that flubbery, with little effect. That's because anybody who knows Klahr's colorful history--which includes everything from owning Central Avenue head shops back in the early 1970s to his recent representation of a middle-school student banned from wearing a Chicago Bulls tee shirt to class--has a hard time getting past it to get to his opponent.
"People somehow remember my head shops, but they've forgotten about Mr. Romley's crack bar," says Klahr.
He's playing on the idea that Klahr is this irresponsible, kooky nut, which is an image I have, as you know, in many circles.
It is a small circle that remembers Gary Peter Klahr's earliest entry into popular consciousness, as a 7-year-old cast member of local broadcasts hosted by cowboy Lew King. Others to make memorable appearances on King's shows include Tanya Tucker, Linda Day George, Marty Robbins and Wayne Newton. Klahr's job was to introduce the host each week. His big line: "It's Wew-w-w King!"
Klahr, son of a wholesale produce man who worked where the America West Arena now stands, claims he was able to read by age 3. By his teens, Klahr had deftly made the transition from show-biz prodigy to budding gadfly. It was then that he organized a petition drive that reversed compulsory physical education in the Phoenix Union High School District. He graduated from high school at age 15 and headed for Arizona State University, where he fought the school's mandatory ROTC requirement. After eight years of agitating at the legislature and in front of the Board of Regents, military training was made a voluntary program at Arizona schools. By then Klahr had finished first in his class of 80 at the University of Arizona law school. His law-school extracurricular activities included filing a lawsuit that resulted in the reapportionment of the legislature.
Before the age most people own their first good car, Klahr had killed PE, ROTC and the rural grip on Arizona lawmaking. Yet he was not ready to become a lawyer, according to officials of the Arizona State Bar. The burghers of the bar objected to Klahr's entry for several reasons, one of which was a story by Arizona Republic reporter Don Bolles in which Klahr was quoted as saying that some lawyers were "nit-pickers." The state Supreme Court ultimately had to admit Klahr to the bar.
Of course, Klahr was not content to limit his energy to the practice of his new profession. He launched campaigns for a wide variety of political offices, including county assessor, the state legislature, justice of the peace and county attorney. He has won twice, once recently for the governing board of the Phoenix Union High School District (on his fourth try; he still sits on the board), and once years ago, for a seat on the Phoenix City Council.
His city-council term is legendary. He was elected in 1973 (as a 30-year-old "youth candidate" in favor of marijuana decriminalization) and quickly made a reputation as a guy who couldn't sit still.
One controversy erupted when Klahr was accused of using the word "pig" in reference to police while addressing a youth gathering at a Unitarian Church in Tempe. Klahr denied he'd done it, but the daily newspapers and other establishment organs were fairly convinced that he was the type who would.
Also controversial was Klahr's head shop. According to a student of the local counterculture at the time, Klahr ran the shop--dubbed Inner Sanctum, then Pipe Fitter--with his sisters, who are now both married and living in Colorado. The former head-shop patron said the entrepreneurs appeared to be interested only in making money, not in using bongs, roach clips and rolling papers.
"It was obvious these were people who only dressed like hippies," says the self-described former hippie, now a successful real estate agent. "But it was also obvious they were not committed to The Movement."
After one two-year city-council term, Klahr lost his bid for reelection by 240 out of 86,000 votes, but not before leaving his mark on city government.
The councilmembers were then elected at-large, and city government was mostly run via the Charter Government Committee, an offshoot of the good-old-boy network that ran the business community. The charter group controlled government by running its anointed slate of candidates every election. Klahr was among the first pols to crack the charter hold on City Hall. In the early 1980s, the council election system was broken up into districts, and the last remnants of the charter bosses began to fade.
Not long after leaving the council, Klahr made his first run for county attorney. Before losing to Charles Hyder in the Democratic primary, Klahr spouted enough off-the-wall rhetoric to cause his opponent to say: "Mr. Klahr suffers from a veritable Niagara of verbal dysentery."
By the mid-1980s, Klahr was still struggling to find a balance between his private practice--he describes it as "small personal injury and small criminal cases" that earn him about $200,000 a year--and public service. In 1985 he was appointed to a civilian board that reviews shootings by Phoenix police. Lots of people, including the president of the police union and editorial writers at the Arizona Republic, decried the appointment, made by Mayor Terry Goddard. Klahr, it turned out, had filed more than 100 complaints and a dozen or so lawsuits against police over the years.
Klahr waded into his review-board duties with glee. Eventually, the police department complained to the city council because, they said, Klahr was abusing his civilian-observer privileges. In one case, the police said Klahr, while riding with a cop, got out to hug a motorist stopped for a traffic violation. Klahr defended his action, saying, "I come from the school that believes you communicate with touch."
Klahr's practice brings him into contact with lots of losers. He handles drunken-driving cases, for example, as well as the usual grab bag of solo-practitioner law.
"He's taking cases which are well below his level of competence," says John Doherty, an attorney who has opposed Klahr in divorce cases. "If a large law firm had gotten ahold of him and paid him a lot of money, he would've been taking cases to the Supreme Court and things like that.
"He really missed his calling. He would've made a brilliant professor of law. He can convert these difficult theories into simple terms which we can understand."
As for Klahr's lawyering style, Doherty says: "It's like he's always running two feet off the ground. He's not an easygoing guy. There's no sitting down and negotiating with the man. Maybe he's a genius, I don't know."
Klahr's two most recent forays into public awareness were his temporary ouster from a lawyers' referral service and his arguing of the tee-shirt case.
Klahr took the teen-apparel suit at the request of the Arizona Civil Liberties Union, for which he frequently does pro bono work. The case arose when Osborn School District administrators, trying to neutralize gang trouble, banned tee shirts bearing certain team names and insignia. Klahr went to court against the district on behalf of the ACLU and a couple of students. The Brown & Bain law firm has since taken over lead chair on the controversial case.
Romley has used the tee-shirt case to bash Klahr, but Klahr doesn't care about the political implications of taking potentially unpopular causes.
"Early on it was a real negative," Klahr says. "But I think people are starting to see I was right. I'm not representing a gangster, I'm representing an all-American boy. They [detractors] don't understand. They see it as being pro-gang or anti-discipline and it just isn't."
Romley also has used the referral-service issue against his opponent. Klahr was suspended for a year from the service, a county-bar program which grants citizens 30 minutes of legal advice for $25, because too many patrons complained about his deportment. "This is not a suspension from practice," says Klahr in his defense. "It's a suspension from a service most people have never heard of. The only charges were rudeness and discourtesy. There were no charges of incompetency and no charge of unethical conduct.
"As far as being rude and short, I am sometimes."
Theoretically, I'm not the strongest candidate that the party could've put out, but who knows? If there had been a primary, I wouldn't have been in it. Literally, every other day I wonder if I really want this job. The reason I say that is I really can't afford it. Even though my expenses are low, I give so much money away. I'll have to take a pay cut to somewhere between a quarter and half of what I make. One test of a public official is, is the guy taking a cut or getting a raise? I think Rick Romley got a raise.
Considering Romley's record and Klahr's reputation, voters should be encouraged to wonder: How did we get this way?
There are several reasons, starting with the vast Republican voter-registration advantage in Maricopa County. As of August, there were 537,539 Republicans registered, 384,720 Democrats and 124,588 independents, Libertarians and "others." Democrats eyeing the county attorney job must figure in a 100,000-plus vote deficit before they raise a single campaign dollar. "It's just a real tough county for Democrats," says Melodee Jackson, executive director of the state Democratic party.
Reason two is campaign dollars. Georgia Staton, Romley's opponent for Tom Collins' vacated office in 1988, says she raised about $90,000 for the race, and figures that anyone attempting to unseat an incumbent should plan to gather twice as much. That's a lot of begging for a job that pays $70,000 a year.
Reason three is the job itself. Democratic insiders say the party went door to door at several of the Valley's larger law firms in search of a solid candidate to take on Romley, to no avail. Time and again, Democratic headhunters heard the same rationale for staying out: It's a bad job at low pay.
Maricopa County attorney doesn't have the career cachet of, say, Arizona attorney general, from where people tend to advance toward higher office or higher visibility. Bruce Babbitt moved from attorney general to governor to presidential candidate to, some speculate now, a cabinet post in a Clinton administration. Bob Corbin, Babbitt's successor, is president of the National Rifle Association. Grant Woods, the current Republican attorney general, is bouncing on the political springboard.
The last county attorney, Tom Collins, now works as a prosecutor in Cochise County. The guy before him, Charles Hyder, works as a federal prosecutor. Romley, who was a prosecutor for the City of Phoenix before signing on with Collins, is said to have his eyes on a higher prize, specifically attorney general.
But any young, ambitious lawyer with plans of running for a loftier spot--governor, Congress, NRA president--would never get stuck at the Romley-Collins level. Says one such ambitious lawyer: "It's a dead-end job for dead-end people."
Thus the Democratic party tried, and failed, to whip up any interest in the job. "If we could get a good moderate woman," mused one Democratic wheel, "we'd have a good shot."
One woman whose name comes up repeatedly is Georgia Staton, who lost to Romley in 1988 after her primary opponent, Myrna Parker, graciously threw her support to the Republican. Romley then hired Parker and Staton went on to lose a close election to Woods in the 1990 attorney general's race.
"It was neither the time nor the place," says Staton of this election, adding that she would have relished an "I told you so" campaign against Romley. "I don't want to be seen as the Democratic Evan Mecham."
So Gary Peter Klahr, the Democratic Evan Mecham, is the candidate.
"It's a tough election year," says Dem boss Jackson. "It costs a lot of money to campaign. The fact that Gary Peter Klahr is our candidate is not a negative thing."
As I've said before, you're buying my brain, not my body.
I don't cultivate sloppiness as some kind of San Francisco-type hippie-ness. . . . I'm just not into fancy clothes. I wear a tie when I have to, at formal appearances. Years ago, when I was a young attorney, I wore a tie all the time. The TV spots, when you see them, I look as clean as anybody. Because of the angles, even the weight is gone. I look as sharp as anyone.
Klahr has run a four-front campaign attack on Romley.
There have been numerous public forums at which both men have appeared, including radio interviews, candidate forums and a few mano a mano debates, such as a riveting dustup last week in front of the county bar association.
Klahr claims he does not do well at such personal appearances. He drew a big laugh at the bar tiff when he interrupted a typically frenzied monologue by saying, ". . . and furthermore--what was the question?"
While lambasting Romley for taking and keeping the Keating money (and calling for a grand jury investigation of Romley's dainty treatment of beer baron Jim Hensley's questionable contributions to U.S. Senator John McCain and others), Klahr managed to overload the room's public-address system several times and his opponent at least once.
As Klahr pounded away at a Romley staffer over conflict-of-interest allegations, Romley withered under Klahr's rhetorical Uzi bursts, turned blood-clot red and was unable to speak for several seconds.
Aside from such high-comedy, low-profile outings, Klahr's campaign consists of about 150 signs (Elect a lawman, not a politician), 250 or so TV spots aired on Dimension Cable (which reaches about 40 percent of the electorate) and a peppery series of news releases in which Klahr either announces platform positions (Klahr calls for crackdown against driving without a license) or levels charges (Klahr calls Romley 'Ethical Pygmy').
The news releases have been all but ignored. When it appeared that pollsters would also completely ignore the race, Klahr had his campaign staffers do one of their own. By calling the top name on every other page of a telephone book, the Klahr campaign came up with a grossly unscientific sample of 54 voters. Sixteen were for Romley, five for Klahr and the rest were either undecided or miffed at being bothered.
In hopes of convincing those undecideds, Klahr estimates he'll spend $35,000 on this campaign. He's managed to raise about $2,000, he says, which means that the rest will come out of his own pocket. All for a job that he has sworn (via notarized affidavit) to hold for only one term. In contrast, Romley's campaign-contribution total through October 24 was about $41,000. The small folder that holds Klahr's campaign-contribution documents contains no check stubs from prominent Democrats. "The state Democratic committee hasn't had any money since Joe Stedino stopped funding it two years ago," says Klahr. And his file holds only a few of the ACLU types for whom Klahr so selflessly and so frequently crusades. Louis Rhodes, director of the local ACLU, is one of the 20 or so people who have written Klahr a check.
"It would be a real upset if he were to win," says Rhodes. "He probably has that view, too.
"It raises some question about the caliber of people who would run for this office. You have to have someone like Gary, who can afford to do it. He's someone who has carved out his niche in the legal community. He's not one of these people who dreams to make a million dollars, or to build himself into a huge corporate law practice.
"He's running because he's not happy with how Romley has run the office."
Klahr hasn't spent any of Rhodes' money polishing his image. He prefers short-sleeved shirts (lime green is his favorite color for this campaign) and, when absolutely necessary, clip-on ties. When he appears at lawyerly functions, you can almost hear his natty colleagues thinking, "Who let him in?"
Klahr says one gay activist wouldn't promise him that community's vote unless he could lose 50 pounds.
Meanwhile, some of the county's most prominent Democratic legal eagles, including former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Frank Gordon, are in a group called Democrats for Romley. Phoenix Mayor Paul Johnson, also a big-deal Democrat, considered endorsing Romley before declaring neutrality.
"The Democrats think I can't win or that it doesn't matter, it's got to be one or the other," says Klahr. "Both reasons are so wrong. I can't understand the psychology. Part of the reason is I'm not a glamour boy."
Everybody knows how important this race is. Everyone knows this man is a wounded bear. This is probably the first time I've ever been in a race where my opponent has much higher negatives than me. I've won two races and lost 12. In most of those races, I had alleged negatives. In this case, whatever negatives on me are old ones. Head shop from 17 years ago, that kind of stuff, and every negative I have he's got a counternegative. I mean, head shop--he's got the bar.
Every negative they've got on me, he's got more. It hurts to see a race that's so winnable that may not be won. I still think I can win. But . . . if it's close and I don't win, it'll be obvious whose fault it'll be. It won't be the Republican machine or the establishment. It will be our own people.
Klahr has had a problem picking people to hang out with. And he has had several strange brushes with crime and criminals.
Example: In January 1973, Klahr entered his North Central home to find a knife-wielding intruder in the living room. Klahr says the assailant, "a kid I knew slightly," stole $80 and Klahr's car, but crashed the car and was "promptly apprehended."
Another example: In December 1975, near the end of his city council term, a photograph of a black-eyed Klahr ran next to a news story about an assault on Klahr by one of his own head-shop employees. Klahr told the paper that his assailant was a drug addict he was attempting to rehabilitate. The beating, Klahr said, had occurred after the men returned from a Christmas shopping trip together. The assailant told the paper that Klahr had given him money, gifts, jobs and medical assistance over a period of two years. Klahr did not press charges in the assault.
Finally: In December 1985, Klahr came home to discover an intruder, armed with a shotgun, waiting for him. "People who say I'm soft on crime, they don't know what I've gone through," Klahr says. "I walked into my house . . . and there was a man with a sawed-off shotgun. I thought it was a hit. I mean, I thought it was a deliberate killing. Obviously it wasn't. That's why I'm still here. But he robbed me of $1,000 and that was really frightening." The crime was never solved, and Klahr was again photographed for a newspaper story, this time posing in front of the bathroom towel bar to which the intruder tied him.
Klahr has had other brushes with the chaotic nature of the universe, including one bizarre tale from the mid-1970s in which one of his young clients convinced him to journey to a Mesa drive-in theatre--purportedly to talk about the client's drug problem. During the movie, both men were robbed at knifepoint by a third man. The assailant had robbed Klahr at his home the previous month, leading police to suspect that Klahr had been set up by his client. Klahr today labels the situation a kidnaping.
Characteristically, Klahr attempts to turn his brushes with mayhem into a campaign strategy point. In this year's campaign literature, Klahr claims that his home and offices have been burglarized some 40 times, then adds that such a record will help him, as county attorney, better empathize with crime victims.
Is it possible to chalk up these episodes to a bad-luck streak? Klahr explains it all by saying he represents a lot of "bad eggs," that he has personally invested a lot of time trying to rehabilitate them, and that sometimes the rehab doesn't take.
"I used to be a bleeding-heart liberal," says Klahr of his sometimes dangerous work with "bad eggs." "You've heard the definition of a conservative as a liberal who's been mugged? Well, I've gotten more conservative as I've gotten older, though I haven't lost my idealism.
"In 1976, I thought nothing of the idea, if somebody said, 'Why don't we go out to a movie and talk about my drug problem?', I would never think, 'Maybe it's a setup.' I've gotten a little more paranoid, suspicious, self-protective and conservative. Which I think most people do as they get older.
"I still work with kids a lot, in the community on a macro basis, and I still work one-to-one on a micro basis. At any one time I've got several mentorees."
Klahr, whose rsum lists years of volunteering for and contributing to programs that aim to help troubled youth and young adults, adds that one of his current mentorees is working on his campaign.
"I've always been interested in juvenile delinquency and crime, ever since I was a kid," he says.
But youth-treatment officials contacted for this story raise troubling questions about Klahr's run-ins with mayhem. Without identifying Klahr, New Times described his history of victimization to several professionals who work with troubled teens. One deemed Klahr's pattern of violent confrontations with clients or "mentorees" as "aberrant" and "inappropriate." Another called the episodes "bizarre." The standards of the treatment industry generally prohibit any extraclinical contact, says one administrator. Similar standards exist for lawyers. "I care about these kids," says Klahr. "I work with them. I do it openly and if people want to talk about me, if they don't want to elect me county attorney . . . then they'll just have to do it. In other words, I am what I am and I do nothing wrong and I have nothing to apologize for."
[As county attorney] I'm not going to go into people's private lives. We'll do plenty of stings, but the stings will be the classical situation where there's evidence of pre-existing crime. Drugs, stolen property. I've talked to insurance agents. I've talked to stock brokers. You could sting almost any profession in this town if you try hard enough. Take the analogy of Buckeye Road. If you went down there right now, you could talk half the people into committing a crime. To what possible purpose? If people are on the edge, we want to pull them back from the edge, not push em over. If someone wants to know the biggest difference between Gary Peter Klahr and Rick Romley, it's that little analogy. That if--not literally, of course, but the analogy is fair--the guy's on the ledge, he'll push him over and maybe have a net underneath. Maybe. I will pull the guy back.
Naturally, Klahr has positions on important issues, but the late-starting nature of coverage of this campaign (the mainstream media only started to show interest after Klahr excoriated Romley in front of the county bar last week) has kept discussion of issues to a minimum.
AzScam, for example, would not have happened under a Klahr administration. "I would've brought some misdemeanor charges and maybe ethics charges," says Klahr. "I would probably spank them with a misdemeanor and turn the stuff over to the legislature's ethics committee. And recommend they be somewhere between suspended and expelled. But I don't want the people to get the idea I approve of the attitudes displayed by Bobby Raymond and Carolyn Walker."
Romley's Do Drugs/Do Time program would be dismantled. Klahr's approach to the drug war is increased education and better treatment and diversion programs. Klahr, who says he tried pot once but had trouble inhaling the smoke, is no longer in favor of marijuana decriminalization. "Drugs are a very serious social problem," he says. "Law enforcement has a role in it. It has its role, but not the role. Most of it is education, like we've done with cigarettes. . . . You understand, I can't stop the police from busting people. But if they know I won't prosecute, they won't spend the money. It's all one public relations thing. When I pull the zipper on it, that's the end of it."
Klahr says he'll beef up the office's prosecution of elderly abuse, environmental crime and consumer fraud. He even has a position on abortion. "I will enforce the law, but I will not prosecute women and doctors if Roe v. Wade is overturned," he says. "I will use the state constitution, which provides an explicit right of privacy, and if that fails and the Supreme Court overrules me, I will resign. . . . I will not be the instrument of oppression."
There are so many situations where I have put forth an interesting idea and nobody gives a goddamn. It's discouraging.
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It's a socialization of news. . . . That's worth a sidebar or something, or maybe just a press-club discussion. But what has happened is, Romley has been sending out nothing. He has no program, no plans, no defense. I wouldn't say he's hiding. He's responded to queries, but he's not doing any major campaigning. I have put out, I think, some of the best releases I've seen. Let's suppose that there was no presidential race. If this was the only race, I'm sure it would demand attention. But the news holes are limited, TV holes especially, and because there are so many important races--presidential three-way race and all that--I'm not getting the attention I deserve. Nothing. Almost like a blackout. It'd be nice to say it's a conspiracy, but it's simply what I call socialized press. Like socialized medicine. It wouldn't hurt if it wasn't for the fact that I'm the attacker and I've got a lot to say.
When I first ran for city council in 69, the main reason I came from obscurity to almost being elected--a 25-year-old kid--was because I just out-campaigned everyone. In those days, you got the credit you deserved. I had new proposals--youth commissions, all kinds of groovy stuff--which have since been adopted and I was the only one who campaigned and I got the coverage. Now, as I say, it's this socialized system.
Gary Peter Klahr is talking. Until just a few days ago, nobody was listening. Now, it's probably too late for Klahr to make any headway against a vulnerable opponent who's living on the wrong side of the anti-incumbent divide.
Some voters will no doubt see their way through Klahr's past, including the head shops, the 20 years of election futility, the years of being victimized by his very own weird little crime wave. Some voters will no doubt see their way past his ramshackle personal appearance. Others will factor in all that, look at the incumbent and conclude, as one local attorney put it, "I'm not sure how much worse off that office could be.