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Klein's campaign magic is really nothing more than doublespeak

When I walked into Bill Klein's campaign headquarters Friday, I expected to see him sawing a lady in half or pulling rabbits out of hats.

I had become convinced that the man must be a magician.

How else could he pull the support of the police union and at the same time manage to get the support of black critics of the police, such as Marva Dennard?

How else could he unite the storied Curtsinger crowd with the anti-Curtsinger contingent?

It had to be magic.

But I didn't see any rabbits or top hats. I didn't even see any pins sticking in likenesses of David Fischer.

After spending about 45 minutes with Klein, I had the answer.

Those people _ who can't stand each other and their opposing, battling agendas _ all can find something to love in Klein's words. If they listen to half of what he has to say.

If they ignore the parts they hate.

Take his zero-tolerance policy for racist words and behavior in the professional, disciplined Police Department he envisions under his administration. If an officer utters a racial slur, he's gone.

What black person _ or fair-minded person of any category _ would not applaud him for that? Tough, swift punishment of policy violations.

Almost in the same breath, though, the would-be mayor says the punishment would not always be so tough or swift. He criticized Chief Darrel Stephens for suspending Officer James Knight, who violated procedure by placing himself in front of a stopped car, which culminated with him shooting the driver and sparking violence.

"I wouldn't have done it," Klein said of the suspension. He said he would have let the grand jury's decision take care of it. "Chief Stephens didn't appease the African-American community (with the suspension), and he tore the Police Department apart."

But, Mr. Klein, I said, the grand jury and the chief were looking at different things: The grand jury was deciding if a crime had been committed, the chief was deciding if police policy had been violated.

He acknowledged that I had a point.

So what would you have done about that violation, I pressed.

"If you think an officer has violated some policy, you can put him somewhere else," Klein said.

So you would not have suspended Officer Knight, you would have moved him around in the department?

"I'd have to look at the sanctions the chief had available to him. I'd have to look at the man's record and make a determination," Klein said.

It was hard not to imagine the message this convoluted version of zero-tolerance would send to a young officer on the street: If I violate policy and hurt somebody's feelings with a racial slur, I'm outta here. If I violate policy and kill somebody, I might get a transfer.

Klein's answers throughout the interview had a disturbing consistency: They were an assertion followed by its contradiction, or a statement followed by its retraction.

"I don't think the civilian review board has the power or authority it should have. They do need to have some teeth in that review board."

What teeth?

"I don't know," Klein answered. "The city is looking into that now."

Klein said Stephens and Fischer were not doing what they were supposed to during the disturbances. What would he have done differently?

He said there were two choices: Stand back and do nothing, or go in and arrest the leaders.

Which would he have chosen? He said he doesn't want to be a Monday morning quarterback.

How would he respond if the same kind of violence erupted after he is mayor? Every situation is different, he said. "I'd have to see."

I left his campaign headquarters and couldn't help wondering: Where did they hide all the top hats and rabbits?