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Tuesday, December 06, 2005  

News: 'Gay chat mayor' Jim West recalled

It will not be official until the election results are certified, but Jim West of Spokane lost the title of mayor today. He gained notoriety in May as a resolutely Right Wing politician who trolled the Internet for barely legal male sexual partners. The scandal culminated in the recall election that ended at 8 p.m. Throughout the saga, West claimed that he had done nothing to warrant losing his job and that he was being pilloried for behavior that was purely personal.

The Spokesman-Review has the story.

Spokane voters ousted Mayor Jim West today.

Preliminary results in the all-mail special election have 65 percent of the ballots marked in favor of the recall, and 35 percent against.

The 59,501 ballots counted represent 54 percent of the 110,589 sent to voters nearly three weeks ago. Ballots will continue to arrive at the elections office for the next several days, but the margin of support for the recall makes it mathematically unlikely that West can reverse the results.

The charge on the ballot, based on reports in The Spokesman-Review, said West should be removed for using "his office for personal benefit." In his ballot response, West denied using his office for personal gain, said he had helped move the city forward by solving long-standing problems and better management practices, and apologized for "errors in my private life."

Under state law, West will officially be removed from office on Dec. 16, the day the election results are certified. Council President Dennis Hession will become the mayor pro tem until the council selects a replacement to serve the remaining two years of West's term.

West's problems with sexual misconduct may have begun decades ago, but the momentum for a recall election began when The Spokesman-Review published a long article reporting allegations that he may have molested boys while serving as a deputy sheriff, solicited teenagers for sex and offered city positions to young men as part of seduction attempts. Controversy arose over the newspaper's use of a computer technician posing as a high school senior at Gay.com, an Internet site where homosexual men socialize, to confirm West's identity and behavior. The computer technician mimicked the conduct of a teen who reported meeting West there, being courted, and ultimately having sex with the mayor in his car.

Both the public and some journalists questioned the ethics of the The Spokesman-Review using a hired hand to elicit information from West. The ruse ended after West appeared at a designated place for a sexual rendevous with the person he believed to be a high school senior.

I have never accepted West's claim that his behavior was solely personal. There are too many indicia connecting his secret personal life and his public life as a powerful politician. He used his position as mayor to impress would-be conquests. His city-owned computer was sometimes used for visiting Gay.com and similar sites. Some of those visits occurred during working hours. West downloaded thousands of pictures of men, some of them nude, others engaged in sex acts, to the computer. In addition, he is alleged to have offered a human resources position to a young man he was trying to date. Another young man says he was appointed to the city's human rights commission after West made bumbling attempts to attract his sexual interest on line. The unwanted advances continued until the he resigned his position and ended contact with West. There is additional evidence, but I think this information sufficient to establish that West's private and public lives had merged, with his apparent obsession with seeking out young males for sex getting the upper hand.

Some people are particularly offended by West's opposition to gay rights legislation as a state legislator, majority leader and mayor. They say that his role of closeted gay nemesis of homosexuals was particularly reprehensible. There is irony in that. But, I don't believe that West's homosexuality, which he denied until the scandal, is the key to the situation. A heterosexual politician who sought out girls and young women for sex, using city resources, and offering them paid or unpaid positions in the city bureaucracy, would be just as much in the wrong.

Citizens of Spokane have appeared reluctant to confront a politician with a reputation for playing hard ball until now. The recall campaign was led by a couple of people with no political experience or financial clout. It was underfunded, and, poorly publicized except for newspaper coverage. Though they gradually withdrew tacit support for him, business and most political leaders did not directly admonish West. Religious leaders were silent. The big picture that emerged was of a city in which people are reluctant to challenge the powerful. The secrecy of the ballot process seems to have given the city its voice. That voice has said 'No' to Jim West.

10:30 PM