The candidates for Columbus City Attorney each say they believe the election comes down to experience.

But what exactly constitutes as the right kind of legal experience will be up to voters.

Zach Klein, the Democratic president of Columbus City Council, will face Republican Don Kline in the Nov. 7 general election.

Each is looking to replace current City Attorney Richard C. Pfeiffer Jr., who is retiring. The office currently pays $177,500 a year with a $4,740 annual car allowance.

Klein, 38, said his work for former Vice President Joe Biden and as a special assistant U.S. Attorney and lawyer at Jones Day, one of the country's biggest law firms, has prepared him for the role as city attorney.

He said his legislative experience rounds out his passion for public service and desire for "fairness and integrity in the system."

Kline said in his 13 years as a self-employed defense attorney, he has argued in every court in Franklin County and many outlying counties.

He said he has built relationships with judges, probation officers, victims and law enforcement personnel, as well as his clients.

"I'm in court every day," he said.

The question of experience came up in Klein's bid last year to unseat incumbent Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O'Brien, a Republican.

Klein, who was narrowly defeated, was chided by O'Brien for his lack of prosecutorial experience.

Kline has continued that criticism.

"I definitely think he needs to have experience," Kline said. "What I bring to the table is experience."

Klein said the job is largely about being an effective manager of the office's 140 employees -- who handle misdemeanor, civil and environmental cases -- and vision.

He said he is keenly interested is making sure there are "effective and progressive" diversion programs and treatment opportunities for those with mental illness or drug addiction.

"There are some, but there is room to grow in expanding the specialty-court docket," said Klein, who lives in Clintonville with his wife, Jennie, and their children, Stella and Rocco.

Another initiative he would like to put in place involves pretrial services, during which defendants could be evaluated to determine whether they're flight risks or harmful to the community, to see if they can await trial outside of the jail system.

"That's a savings to taxpayers," Klein said.

Klein joined with Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther and the liberal wing of national Democrats by helping pass legislation that would ban city services from seeking information from individuals based on their immigration status.

Officials in other major cities called it a "Sanctuary City" policy; Columbus did not, although it is not much more than a semantics difference, Kline said.

The main issue comes down to law enforcement. Columbus officers, according to the new law, will not arrest people based on their immigration status, even if they are in the country illegally.

Klein had said that is an issue for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency.

"It's my intent as the city attorney, when legally allowed to do so, to stand up for our values in the city of Columbus in the face of adversity from the (President Donald) Trump administration and (U.S. Attorney General) Jeff Sessions' justice department," Klein said.

Kline, 42, said city officials didn't use the term because of threats by the Trump administration to withhold federal funding from cities whose elected officials have declared them a Sanctuary City.

A defendant's immigration status is a routine question for judges and magistrates, said Kline, who lives on the West Side with his wife, Tiffany, and their children, Madison and Mackenzie.

He said Klein could be technically skirting part of his oath of office, which requires lawyers to uphold the constitution and laws of the land when their admitted to the bar.

"I will follow the law and I will enforce it," Kline said.

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary