Six months after
a newspaper outed Spokane, Wash., mayor Jim West and
accused him of offering city jobs and perks to young men in
exchange for sex, residents are nearing the end of a
cringe-inducing saga. Ballots are already in the mail
for a special December 6 election that will decide if
West remains in office or is recalled. Officials are
investigating whether he abused his office.
Talk about Thanksgiving. After months of too
much information on a host of topics, it is little
wonder that some 60% of Spokane voters surveyed in a
recent poll said they plan to vote West out of office. Many
are just tired of the sordid saga. "I think Spokane
has been suffering from a low-grade depression," said
Tom Keefe, a local attorney who is spearheading the
effort to recall West.
And why not? Consider some of the details that
have greeted residents on television or in The
--City councilwoman Cherie Rodgers said
that West admitted to her at the beginning of the
scandal that he masturbated in his office in City Hall
while online. West said Rodgers had misunderstood him.
--One young man accused West, 55, of
offering him $300 to swim naked with him.
--An investigator said West offered an
$80,000-a-year job as city human resources director to
a young gay man, identified as Witness No. 2, with no
qualifications for the work, saying, "It's totally my
choice." "That the mayor hoped for a sexual
relationship with Witness No. 2 is evidenced by his
continued sexual online chat with Witness No. 2 during
the following [months]," the report said.
A superior court judge decided recently that
while the contents of West's city-owned laptop
computer are a public record, releasing the photos of
men West looked at on Gay.com would violate the privacy of
those individuals. A lawyer for the newspaper asked if
the photos could be released with a bar across the
face to prevent identification, but Judge Richard
Miller denied the request, to the relief of the West-fatigued.
Helpfully, Miller did look at all 6,600 computer
files from Gay.com on West's computer--and
offered a description in court: "There are a large
number of pictures of the upper torso, with no shirt on, to
display their physiques," Miller said. About 100
pictures show male genitals or buttocks, while 11
showed real or simulated sex, Miller said.
The newspaper's analysis of a computer disk that
West voluntarily released showed that he trolled
Gay.com to look up men who lived in cities he was
planning to visit.
The Spokesman-Review on May 5 began a
series of stories that contended West offered young
men city jobs in exchange for sex. Several young gay
men told the newspaper they were offered perks, trips,
jobs, and appointments by West. The newspaper also reported
allegations by two men that West molested them decades ago
when they were boys. West has vehemently denied those allegations.
The recall election is based on a single count
alleging that West misused his office by offering to
help an 18-year-old man he met at Gay.com get a City
Hall internship. The person the mayor thought was a young
man was really a middle-aged computer expert hired by
For the national media the West story was
interesting primarily because he was a longtime
conservative Republican state legislator who often
voted against gay-friendly bills. Liberal comedian and
author Al Franken calls West "the antigay gay mayor."
"Not every antigay Republican is a repressed
homosexual," Franken joked during an appearance in
Spokane. "I just want to make that clear."
West has declined to identity himself as gay or
"psychoanalyze" himself or talk about when he knew he
was attracted to men. He is not in therapy, he told
the Associated Press, even though his private laundry
has been hanging for months on the national clothesline.
"I'm asexual more than anything else," West said,
describing his life as work, TV, pizza, and beer.
West makes a distinction between a dating Web
site like Gay.com and pornography. "I never went
online looking for pornography," West said. "I went to
chat rooms, looking to meet people." To illustrate,
West brought a sheaf of printouts from Gay.com to his
interview with the AP, some of pictures of men in their
underwear. "It's really embarrassing, talking about
this," West said.
West, who is divorced and childless, has also
had to deal with a recurrence of colon cancer, which
requires chemotherapy that has left him weak and
nearly bald. Despite the controversy and the illness, West
shows up at work in City Hall and makes public
appearances as if nothing is happening.
The recall election is strictly low-budget. City
business leaders, who helped West win the most
expensive state senate race in Washington history in
2002, have called on West to resign but are not contributing
to the recall. The recall group doesn't have enough cash to
run a television ad that a public relations company
produced for free.
Spokesman-Review editor Steve Smith recently
wrote a controversial column essentially asking, "Where is
the outrage?" Some of the outrage is directed at the
newspaper, which critics say went too far in hiring an
undercover operative and has published 145 news
articles on the case.
"Is this not a crusade?" West has asked.
The mayor has so little money that his campaign
to save his job has used old "Elect Jim West" yard
signs instead of printing of new ones. The
election will be certified on December 16, the day West
would actually leave office if he is recalled.
But even then the whole affair may not be over,
West has said he will sue the newspapers regardless of
the election outcome. (AP)