Friday, October 07, 2005

Out of the Closet, Into the Fire

[[S C A N D A L S]] * While disgruntled Californians still only dream about recalling Arnold Schwarzenegger from his governor’s mansion, residents of Spokane, Washington, have moved one giant step closer to booting scandalized Mayor Jim West from City Hall. Spokane County elections officials on Thursday finished validating the petition signatures of 12,684 local voters--117 more than were required before a recall of the Republican politician could be put to a vote. And county Auditor Vicky Dalton today certified those petitions, forwarding the issue to an all-mail vote on December 6.

West, a 54-year-old native Spokanite who cultivated a reputation during his 21 years in the Washington Legislature as a fiscally conservative, moralizing Republican lawmaker, frequently hostile to pro-gay bills, is charged with employing his “positions of public trust--as a sheriff’s deputy, Boy Scout leader, and powerful politician--to develop sexual relationships with boys and young men” during a quarter-century span. In addition, a seven-month investigation by the Spokane Spokesman-Review, the city’s principal newspaper, revealed that since departing the state Senate in 2003 (where he served ultimately as GOP majority leader) in order to take up duties as mayor of Washington’s second-largest city, West had “used the trappings of the mayor’s office to entice and influence young men he met on a gay Web site,” (West resists characterizing himself as gay, and he was married for five years during the 1990s; however, the Spokesman-Review says the mayor also “doesn’t distance himself from the term ‘bisexual.’”) Allegations are that West beguiled young gay men with dinners out, paid internships at City Hall, introductions to the town’s movers and shakers, and coveted sports tickets. As New York’s City Gay News reports, “At least one young gay man has come forward with charges that the mayor, without revealing his identity, courted him online and then, acting separately as the mayor, induced him to accept an appointment to the City Human Rights Commission as a pretext to ‘hound’ him for sexual favors.”

The Spokesman-Review’s controversial probe into West’s private life began in 2004, after one of the newspaper’s reporters interviewed an 18-year-old Spokane man who claimed that he’d met West in an online chat room and eventually engaged in consensual sex with the politician. Later, the paper explains, it “hired a forensic computer expert with a background in federal child pornography stings. The consultant created a fictitious identity as an 18-year-old high school student and went online to chat on He then changed his age to 17. Within two months, West and the consultant began a conversation in the chat room. After the consultant told West he’d turned 18, West offered him gifts and an internship at City Hall. In April [2005], West revealed his identity, and the two arranged a meeting. On April 10 at a Spokane golf course, West arrived at the appointed time.” Concurrently, the newspaper heard from two other men, who contended that the Republican lawmaker had “molested them in the 1970s, when West was a Boy Scout leader and sheriff’s deputy. West vehemently denied the allegations, noting that both accusers are convicted felons who briefly stayed in the same jail. Those allegations are not included in the recall petition ...” (To read The Spokesman-Review’s full coverage of this scandal, click here.)

West, who has been combating colon cancer ever since 2003, tells the Associated Press, “I look forward to the election December 6.” Despite an FBI criminal investigation into his actions and contacts, and regardless of appeals by the Spokane City Council, local business groups, The Spokesman-Review, two former Spokane mayors, and even the Washington Republican Party for him to resign, the mayor refuses to be pushed out of office less than halfway through his first term. He contends that the coming recall election is just another campaign for him. “Shall Jim West be the mayor or not,” the former GOP heavyweight mused recently to a Seattle Times reporter. “I think the voters will review my record and vote for Jim West.”

But it’s hard to believe, especially in a conservative city such as Spokane, that even a Republican can survive an outrage of the proportions rising around West. And voters may learn still more disturbing details of their mayor’s actions. A visiting judge next week is expected to rule on whether the files contained on West’s city-owned laptop computer should be made public.

No comments: