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Political forum has big crowd

One of the largest crowds of this campaign season turned out Thursday evening to hear candidates for mayor and City Council at a forum sponsored by the Coalition of African-American Leadership.

The 200 people who stayed after a summit on police relations for the political forum peppered the candidates with questions, ranging from neighborhood economics to police behavior.

Bill Klein, challenging Mayor David Fischer, drew the first spontaneous applause when he described his conversations with some Melrose residents he met during a drug march. Klein said the residents complained that the drug dealers will just come back when police and city officials were gone.

"What we want," Klein quoted them as saying, "is a drug-free, crime-free neighborhood. We want somebody to get 'em and put 'em in jail." Added Klein: "You deserve that just as much as any person anywhere in this city, north, south, east or west."

One questioner wanted to know what Fischer and Klein would do about racist police officers. Klein said he would enforce a "no-tolerance" policy toward racial slurs and other offensive behavior. Fischer said he would work with CUCA, the Congregations United for Community Action, to promote dialogue between police and neighborhood residents.

Another person asked the two candidates' views on a stronger police review board.

Fischer described several issues under discussion _ giving subpoena power to the board; requiring a report each time an officer pulls a weapon _ but made no commitments.

"I don't think that the review committee has enough power," Klein said flatly. "I'd give 'em more power. I think they need it."

The candidates also sparred over the extent of the city's commitment to minority neighborhoods. Fischer said five of the city's first seven neighborhood improvement programs had been in minority neighborhoods, with good results. Klein promised a WPA-style program to hire young people to rebuild the infrastructure.

Fischer seemed to dodge a question about balancing the city's financial bail-out of the St. Petersburg International Museum with money for a new African-American museum. Klein said he liked the idea and offered that room probably could be found in the International Museum building.

While another African-American coalition, led by Sevell Brown, endorsed Fischer on Thursday, this coalition, led by Rev. Manuel Sykes, decided only to sponsor a public forum. The Sykes coalition does not want to jeopardize its tax-exempt legal status by making official endorsements, spokesman Roger Clendening said.