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Spokane's image after mayoral recall

Spokane's image after mayoral recall

Business, convention, and economic development leaders who asked Mayor Jim West to resign after an Internet sex scandal broke say they must work to repair the city's image after West's recall from office. West was ousted Tuesday by a margin of nearly 2-1 by city residents tired of scandal after The Spokesman-Review newspaper began investigating rumors that the mayor was visiting a gay Internet chat room, offering city jobs and perks to young men in exchange for dates.

Shortly after the newspaper's series began May 5, the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Spokane Visitors and Convention Bureau, and the Spokane Area Economic Development Council asked West to resign. He refused, choosing to wage an unsuccessful court campaign to try to stop the recall. "It's frustrating, but we've had to talk about our situation before we could talk about our destination," Harry Sladich, head of the visitors and convention bureau, said Thursday. "In New York and Chicago trade shows, we're there to sell our destination. Our competitors got to talk about their destination right off the bat. We had to dance around, 'What's happening in your mayor's office?' "

The newspaper hired a computer expert to pose as an 18-year-old high school student after hearing rumors that West was trolling in search of young men. The expert used the screen name "Moto-Brock" to communicate with West, and their sexually charged online conversations formed the basis for the single recall allegation that West improperly used his political office for personal gain.

West, who repeatedly voted against gay rights during his long political career, acknowledged he was gay and admitted making mistakes in his personal life. But he asked voters to give him a second chance. City council president Dennis Hession, who will become acting mayor after West leaves office on December 16, acknowledged in a news conference Wednesday the city has an image problem. "We obviously have a credibility issue, a trust issue that's been created by this situation," Hession said. "It's up to the council and the new mayor to restore that credibility. It takes time to build back your credibility. The council knows, we know, we have some work to do."

More than 40% of the meetings the convention bureau books are with religious groups, but Sladich said there have been no cancellations. "We were very worried that the morality of this situation [might] come into play," Sladich said. "The CVB acted quickly and asked for Mayor West to resign. We had that letter to provide to groups." The letter seeking West's resignation was "basically, proof the business community was taking the moral stance," he said.

Although the three groups asked West to resign, the recall itself was organized by Shannon Sullivan, a single mother with no legal experience who circulated petitions and even argued her case before the state supreme court. The political novice said she went looking for a recall petition to sign after the newspaper series began and was stunned that none existed.

After the scandal broke, West, who formerly welcomed convention groups to the city, was replaced by Hession as official greeter, Sladich said. Rich Hadley, president of the Spokane Regional Chamber of Commerce, said his staff worked hard to get a positive message about the city to trade publications and other outlets after Spokane "got this awful attention." "That was helpful in overcoming the negative press," he said. "Now it peaked because of the recall. I'm assuming that if Dennis Hession becomes the mayor, that part will settle out."

For businesses considering locating in Spokane "the city's representative can convey stability," he said. "That's one thing business wants to know: Can I depend on you?" The city's quality of life, work force, and low housing costs can trump concerns about politics, Hadley added. (AP)

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