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West plans to sue newspaper that outed him

West plans to sue newspaper that outed him

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Spokane, Wash., mayor James West, facing a recall over alleged misuse of public office for offering an internship to someone he met in a gay chat room, says he regrets his online activities but still maintains he's done nothing wrong.

Spokane, Wash., mayor James West, facing a recall over alleged misuse of public office for offering an internship to someone he met in a gay chat room, says he regrets his online activities but still maintains he's done nothing wrong. West is battling colon cancer while fighting for his political career, marking time while undergoing chemotherapy by editing transcripts for a lawsuit he plans to file--whether or not he survives a special December 6 recall election over the City Hall sex scandal. In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press on Monday, West discussed his health, his future, and the circumstances that led to his present political crisis. "I wish I had never gone online at all. I just wish I hadn't," West said. "I scratch my head today. I can't tell you why." West, who just began another three-month chemo session, said the results of his cancer treatment have been promising. His once-full head of hair is thin and graying. A recent poll indicates that 62% of those who responded would vote to recall West--with 29% saying they would vote to retain him--but the former Republican state senate leader said he has overcome negative poll results before and remains optimistic he will remain in office. West said he has no specific plans should the recall succeed in ousting him from the office he has held since January 2004. "Forty-seven percent of the people voted against me in the first place. They wanted Tom Grant...so there is a huge negative base right there," West said. During a run for reelection to the state senate in 1998, one early poll showed that just 22% approved of his job performance, "and I won that election handily," West said. West declined to discuss his recall election strategy but said he will continue to make appearances at community events so people "can see me as a person." Tears welled up in the mayor's eyes and he paused to collect himself at one point while reading a supportive letter he received from a former Boy Scout now living in the Netherlands. One sure campaign issue will be coverage of West by The Spokesman-Review, which has published a series of stories about the mayor's online activities as well as rumors of pedophilia and sexual abuse of boys when he was a sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout leader. West has not been charged with any crimes. The Department of Justice has acknowledged that it is conducting a public corruption investigation, and the Spokane city council has hired an investigator to determine whether the mayor violated city computer use policies. During the 75-minute interview, West took repeated jabs at the newspaper and editor Steven A. Smith. West called the pedophilia accusations "fabrications" and said he never considered resigning after the newspaper began running the articles last May. "The easy thing for me would have been to just crawl off and move away," West said. "This is my town. I'll be here long after Steve Smith's gone. Absolutely. Guaranteed. And when it's all said and done, I'll have a better reputation than Steve Smith." West said he intends to sue the newspaper for invasion of privacy, regardless of the recall election outcome. Smith said the newspaper stands by its reporting, adding that his reputation is based on the job the newspaper does. "I'm not being recalled, and my reputation won't be decided one way or another on December 6," Smith said. "Mayor West is being recalled for actions which he has in large part acknowledged and allegations which to this point he has failed to refute. I think the citizens understand the issues and will respond accordingly." Although West is accused of using his city-owned computer to try to develop relationships in gay chat rooms and has criticized the newspaper for what he called "my brutal outing," the mayor deflected most questions about his sexual orientation. "I'm not going to psychoanalyze myself," West said, adding he is not in psychoanalysis. And while he has acknowledged visiting gay Web sites, the mayor said he has not accessed pornographic sites. West said his lawyers fought to block public release of the contents of his laptop hard drive because they will show profiles of users of a gay chat room who signed privacy pledges. West contended he no longer visits chat rooms but defended the Web sites as acceptable ways for people to meet others. "To condemn it, to say it's wrong, means there's a whole bunch of folks out there who are perfectly legitimate folks that use that as a perfectly legitimate means to get to know people," West said. "What are you going to do, go to a bar?" West fended off suggestions that he was being a hypocrite by voting against gay-friendly bills during nearly two decades in the state legislature. "I never stood up anyplace, in any campaign, and said, 'I'll go and vote for gay rights' and then didn't. That would be hypocritical," he said. "I was never a closeted conservative or a closeted liberal. I was a conservative. I wasn't pretending to be a conservative. I believe in certain things, and that hasn't changed today." Although he voted against five bills considered to be gay-friendly during his tenure in Olympia, he also helped secure money for a Seattle AIDS house and voted to make money available for health benefits for people with AIDS, West said. "If you have this real activist agenda, I'd be against that," he said. "I don't think this is hypocritical at all. There are lots of issues. I wasn't the champion. I wasn't in front of these issues. I wasn't tilting at windmills. I just didn't vote for them." (AP)

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