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Friday, May 27, 2005  

Opinion: Mayor West should ride into sunset

I haven't written about Spokane Mayor Jim West previously because I've been waiting for him to resign. But, again this week West (pictured) expressed his determination to remain in office despite his inability to govern effectively. On May 5, the Spokesman-Review published a package of articles disclosing allegations of sexual impropriety involving the mayor dating back more than 25 years. Two men now in their 30s say West and his best friend molested them when they were in elementary school. David Hahn and West were both sheriff's deputies and Boy Scout troop leaders. According to several sources, they used their positions to engage in erotic acts with boys, ranging from having Scouts pull their pants down in public to oral sex and sodomy. Hahn committed suicide after being confronted about his alleged pedophilia in 1981. West emphatically denies the allegations of the men who claim he forced them to have sex with him when they were children.

But, the mayor does not deny that he has used his office to obtain sex from young men. The Spokesman-Review learned that West was frequenting Gay.com to meet barely legal males, some still in high school. It hired an expert in computer forensics to engage the mayor and confirm his identity. (Use of that technique has resulted in its own controversy, which I will blog later.) The investigator was able to establish that not only was the older man who pursued young men there the mayor, but that he was willing to offer them positions in city government in return for accepting his advances.

After the initial series was published, one of those men, Ryan Oelrich, agreed to speak openly about his experiences with Mayor West. Oelrich says he was contacted at Gay.com by a man who used two screen names over a period of about a year. The man, in his 50s, said he had seen Oelrich in person and found him attractive. Weeks later, someone suggested to Oelrich that an application for a seat on the Spokane Human Rights Commission from him would be looked upon favorably. Oelrich applied, met with the mayor and was approved. Soon after, Mayor West is said to have revealed he was the older man who had pursued Oelrich online. The pursuit is alleged to have become more than virtual. Oelrich says he was constantly harassed by West, including an offer of $300 if he would swim naked with Spokane's chief executive.

Other young men have also come forward, though most have asked that their names not be published. Among them are one who says he was offered a paid position in Spokane city government, and, another who says he had sex with the mayor in West's vehicle, on city property.

Gay rights activist Mike Kress, in an opinion piece in the Spokesman-Review, has explained why be believes West should resign.

A person's sexuality is a private matter, and Spokane Mayor Jim West's sexual orientation should be no exception. However, the hypocrisy, cynicism and lies upon which Mr. West built his political career harmed homosexuals in our state, and his sexual orientation is thus a legitimate topic for discussion.

Over the years, Mayor West furthered his political career in part by opposing equal rights protection for all citizens. By opposing civil rights legislation that protects gays, lesbians, bisexuals and the transgendered through his actions and his rhetoric Mayor West enhanced his standing in the Republican Party and with Washington's conservative voting bloc.

Some commentators have said that such attacks on West are unfair. They believe that homosexuality should not be viewed as limiting a person's political options. In an argument reminiscent of the one Jeff Gannon/James Guckert relied on to try retain credibility, sympathizers say Mayor West had every right to be closeted and hostile to gay rights. However, I don't think a person needs to agree with Kress that West's hypocrisy is a problem to oppose West's continued leadership of Spokane. West's admitted actions alone -- misusing his position as mayor to pursue dates and obtain sex -- are reason enough for him to resign. A heterosexual mayor would be subject to the same criticism.

Spokane has a 'strong mayor' form of government. The city council cannot force West to leave. The only avenues open are a recall or resignation. The recall process in Washington is cumbersome, and, even a successful effort can be appealed. The most reasonable way to end the embarrassing situation the city finds itself in is for Mayor West to honor his professed love for his hometown by resigning. It is time for Jim West, who has been a mover and shaker in state politics for more than two decades, to ride off into the sunset.

5:35 PM