Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Out West, West Out

[[E L E C T I O N S]] * To nobody’s great surprise, Jim West, the Republican mayor of Spokane, Washington, who had been fighting for his political life ever since it was revealed last spring that he’d “used positions of public trust ... to develop sexual relationships with boys and young men,” was recalled from office yesterday in a landslide vote-by-mail election. That result puts West into the record books as Spokane’s first elected chief executive ever to be removed before he could finish his term.

“I’m at peace with everything,” West told the city’s Spokesman-Review newspaper shortly after the ballots were counted last evening. Asked what the future holds for him, the 54-year-old soon to be ex-mayor said simply, “I get to enjoy a private life for a while.” West will have to leave office once the results of yesterday’s election are certified on December 16. City Council President Dennis Hession will then begin serving as acting mayor, until the council meets on December 19 and chooses someone to fill out the two remaining years of West’s four-year term. Hession, a business attorney and former Spokane Park Board member, is thought to have an inside line on the job of leading eastern Washington’s largest city.

Sixty-five percent of Spokanites participating in Tuesday’s election agreed with the language of a recall measure that charged West with having used “his elected office for personal benefit.” Just 35 percent voted to keep West, once a powerful state legislator and majority leader of the Washington Senate, in the mayor’s office.

This special election was sparked by a seven-month investigation, conducted by The Spokesman-Review, which revealed that West had “used the trappings of the mayor’s office to entice and influence young men he met on a gay Web site,” Allegations are that West charmed young gay men with dinners out, paid internships at City Hall, introductions to the town’s movers and shakers, and coveted sports tickets. The newspaper also published claims by two men who said he had molested them during the 1970s and ’80s, when West was a sheriff’s deputy and Boy Scout leader. (For full coverage of this scandal, click here.) West, who resists characterizing himself as gay, but “doesn’t distance himself from the term ‘bisexual,’” according to the Spokesman-Review, has denied the molestation charges. But no criminal inquiry has followed, because the statute of limitations on any such crimes has long since passed.

This scandal has been made all the more interesting, of course, by the fact that Republican West was known in the Washington Legislature for his sanctimonious, anti-gay agenda. He voted in favor of a bill that would have barred gays and lesbians from working in schools or daycare centers, and in 1995, he advocated impeaching then-Governor Mike Lowry, a Democrat, for alleged sexual harassment. If he had been the mayor of liberal Seattle or Tacoma, both in western Washington, West might have stood some slim chance of surviving the recall campaign. But Spokane, a city of 200,000 residents, is considerably more conservative in its attitudes. Even though many Spokaneites thought he’d been doing a pretty good job as mayor, they couldn’t abide his alleged abuse of the office to solicit sexual favors. So the same place that gave him his start in Washington politics, ended it with its blue nose turned up in disgust.

READ MORE:Spokane Mayor, Caught in Gay Sex Sting, Is Ousted in Vote That May Advance Gay Rights,” by Timothy Egan (The New York Times).

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