Public Unhappy With Spokane Mayor

Spokane, Wash., Mayor Jim West would be voted out of office if a recall election were held today. That's according to a new poll by a Spokane TV station. More than half the people polled say the Mayor should resign, amid allegations of molestation and abuse of power.

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The mayor of Spokane, Washington is facing an FBI investigation, calls for his resignation and a recall petition. They all stem from stories published in The Spokesman-Review, the local newspaper. The stories accuse Mayor James West of molesting two young boys decades ago and of using his current position to troll for young men on the Internet. The mayor denies the molestation charges. Elizabeth Wynne Johnson reports on what people in Spokane have to say about the matter.

ELIZABETH WYNNE JOHNSON reporting:

At Rocket Bakery in Spokane, customers scan the headlines over lattes and sandwiches. Everybody's got an opinion about how their local paper, The Spokesman-Review, broke the biggest story in years. Catherine Coke(ph) applauds the paper, even for perpetrating a hoax to get to the truth.

Mr. CATHERINE COKE: I guess I'm glad he's caught, and it doesn't really matter how he was caught, in my opinion.

JOHNSON: The newspaper's probe began because of decades-old molestation claims. Soon, reporters began fielding tips about the mayor's present-day activities in a gay chat room, in particular the offers of gifts and opportunities in exchange for sex. In an effort to bulletproof its claims, the paper hired a forensic computer expert to go online at Gay.com and wait for a come-on from Mayor West. That didn't sit well with newspaper reader Rod Elfin.

Mr. ROD ELFIN: I'm a little bit disturbed by what I would characterize as entrapment, that is the use of a so-called computer expert to pose as a young man, it seems to me, to entrap the mayor into doing what, in fact, he did do.

JOHNSON: Alan Thorpe(ph) says he was bothered at first by the apparent hypocrisy of Spokane's conservative Republican mayor, a former state Senate majority leader and staunch opponent of gay rights initiatives. But Thorpe's no so sure the city would be better off with someone else.

Mr. ALAN THORPE: I mean, I may get somebody that has a more congruent public and private life, and he may not do as good a job. So what do I want to buy? Do I want to hire an image, or do I want to hire results?

JOHNSON: Since the story broke, thousands of letters and e-mails have poured in to The Spokesman-Review. `Hatchet job' is what one reader called it; `Enough already,' proclaimed another. Mayor West himself has called the investigation a brutal outing, and went after the newspaper when announcing to City Council that he's taking a leave of absence.

Mayor JAMES WEST (Republican, Spokane, Washington): I hope that you and the people will reserve judgment until the newspaper is done persecuting me.

JOHNSON: With the mayor disputing some of the accusations against him, the credibility of The Spokesman-Review comes into play. Editor Steve Smith says he knew the reporting would be controversial, and so he's been putting an unprecedented quantity of raw interview transcripts and documents on the Web so readers can judge the unfiltered material for themselves.

Mr. STEVE SMITH (Editor, The Spokesman-Review): And we're finding that a lot of readers are actually doing that, and they're telling us what they would have done with this material, how they might have written the story. They're telling us where they think we fell down, and that's great. I love that part of it.

JOHNSON: In the end, this investigation may do as much to change a city's relationship with its newspaper as with its mayor. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Wynne Johnson.

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