Zach Klein has emerged as the top Democratic candidate looking to replace Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., who has announced he would not seek re-election next year.

Zach Klein has emerged as the top Democratic candidate looking to replace Columbus City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., who has announced he would not seek re-election next year.

Klein, the Columbus City Council president, said he's interested in the job and has the backing of Pfeiffer and the Franklin County Democratic Party.

Klein came within 4 percentage points of unseating Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien in the November election. O'Brien, a Republican, received 49 percent of the total votes cast and Klein, 45 percent.

Green Party candidate Bob Fitrakis received 6 percent.

Pfeiffer said Klein has the right municipal experience, having served as chairman of City Council's public safety and judiciary committees.

Klein, who directed reporters to a prepared statement, said he was humbled by Pfeiffer's support.

"Choosing to seek the office of Columbus City Attorney is not a decision that I take lightly, given Mr. Pfeiffer's unexpected move not to seek re-election," Klein wrote.

"In these uncertain national times, city attorneys will play a pivotal role in protecting civil rights, promoting criminal justice reform and providing progressive solutions to keep our families safe," Klein said. "That's why I cannot remain on the sidelines and will run for Columbus City Attorney."

Pfeiffer, 72, said he decided to not seek re-election because he's slowing down and can't dedicate the energy it takes to run the office as effectively as he wants.

He said he intends to fill out his full term, which expires at the end of 2017.

The office has 150 full- and part-time employees -- 62 of whom are attorneys. The annual budget is $13 million. The office prosecutes traffic offenses and misdemeanor criminal offenses.

The prosecutor's base annual salary is $172,750.

Klein, 37, also picked up the endorsement of Mayor Andrew Ginther on Dec. 2.

"Zach Klein has consistently fought for justice, equality and opportunity for every person in our city," Ginther said in a prepared statement.

"Zach helped give the city attorney's office the tools they need to crack down on blighted, crime-ridden motels," Ginther said. "Zach joined me in investing millions of dollars in home-repair grants to help keep people, including veterans, in their homes.

"Columbus is America's Opportunity City -- a city that promotes openness and celebrates diversity. Zach is a principled, common-sense progressive who will stand up for the values that define us."

His strong electoral showing in November and his ability to raise $1 million for the race, puts Klein in a strong position, political insiders and observers say.

Yet, the decision leaves out Bill Hedrick, the city's first assistant prosecutor and Pfeiffer's chief of staff; many believed Hedrick would be the front-runner and endorsed by his boss.

Hedrick, who said he has a friendly relationship with Klein, said he was interested in the job, but will yield to the party's blessing. Pfeiffer declined to discuss the issue.

"If someone else wants the job, that's the way it is," Hedrick said.

On the Republican side, few names have emerged as potential candidates.

"We started putting pen to paper, but we haven't contacted any of these folks," said Doug Priesse, the GOP's county chairman.

He said he expects the central committee to endorse a candidate at its Dec. 13 meeting.

But Priesse said he is well aware Republicans have had a tough time winning citywide elections for more than a decade.

"Look, when you're outnumbered ... it's very, very hard," he said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary