Beleaguered Spokane Mayor Faces Recall Election
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
Tomorrow voters in Spokane, Washington, will decide whether their mayor will keep his job. James West has been accused of child molestation and offering jobs to young men in exchange for sexual favors. The Republican mayor is asking for a second change. But as Elizabeth Wynne Johnson reports, voters could recall him.
ELIZABETH WYNNE JOHNSON reporting:
Jim West took office in 2003. At the time, many thought he was just the kind of leader Spokane needed to get over its persistent image as the also-ran city of the Northwest. Now he's the object of a bitter recall campaign.
(Soundbite of campaign commercial)
Unidentified Woman: Jim West has disgraced the city of Spokane. He has offended its citizens and made a mockery of the mayor's office.
JOHNSON: Six months ago, the local newspaper unveiled the results of a prolonged investigation. It was sparked by allegations that the mayor had sexually molested young boys more than 20 years ago. West categorically denied those allegations. The story did reveal something else about the 54-year-old Republican, a staunch conservative with a history of voting against gay rights initiatives. The mayor responded in a press conference.
(Soundbite of press conference)
Mayor JAMES WEST (Republican, Spokane, Washington): The newspaper also reported that I visited a gay Internet chat line and had relations with adult men. I don't deny that.
Mr. DAVID BRAY(ph) (Retired Spokane Realtor): There's nobody in the recall committee that cares about his sexuality, and I don't think too many other people in Spokane do.
JOHNSON: Retired Spokane Realtor David Bray is a former West supporter who's now helping to lead the recall.
Mr. BRAY: It's what he does with his capabilities in his office to--I don't know--activate his sexual life. That's where we have a problem.
JOHNSON: The Spokesman-Review had accused West of misconduct and abuse of power, going online to lure young men, using official perks and opportunities as bait. The paper generated a mix of kudos and criticism for going to extraordinary lengths to confirm its story. It hired a computer expert to pose as a young man on Gay.com and wait for an approach from the mayor, which happened. And the paper published reams of online chat that took place between the decoy and Mayor West, who went by the alias TheRightBiGuy(ph). Spokesman-Review editor Steven Smith stands by the reporting.
Mr. STEVEN SMITH (Editor, The Spokesman-Review): I really think this is a classic newspaper story, and I hope, aside from the controversy over the Internet portion of our investigation, it reminds my colleagues that, properly done, these sorts of stories have great power and that they can move communities, I hope, in a positive direction.
JOHNSON: Spokane voters have mixed feelings about the whole thing. At a shopping mall downtown, Heidi Westphal(ph) says it's the disconnect between the mayor's public and private lives that bothers her.
Ms. HEIDI WESTPHAL: I have no problems with him being a homosexual. That's fine in my book. But don't vote against that when you yourself are that way. That, to me, is a bit dishonest.
JOHNSON: Spokane attorney Steve Yukester(ph) takes a different view. He believes the extraordinary energy summoned against the mayor is based on homophobia. Yukester doesn't work for West, but he's filed lawsuits against the recall.
Mr. STEVE YUKESTER (Spokane Attorney): This is not about somebody using a city computer, for heaven's sakes. That's just a rationalization. This is about homosexuality, period.
JOHNSON: Polls indicate the mayor is likely to be recalled. If he is, the president of the city council will immediately be sworn in as mayor pro tem. The city council could then appoint a mayor to serve until the next election in 2007. For NPR News, I'm Elizabeth Wynne Johnson.
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