Abuse of office? Abuse of a city-owned computer? Sexual abuse of minors? Or, an abusive smear campaign by the city's lone daily newspaper? Take your pick. The upcoming special vote-by-mail election asking if Spokane should remove Mayor Jim West from office is going to come down to one of those questions. Some elections are about grand ideas and uplifting themes. Others, well ...
"This is not me practicing my Jeffersonian ideals. This is getting the skunk out from under the front porch," says Spokane photographer and political activist Don Hamilton of the Dec. 6 election.
Hamilton is one of 10 members of the & lt;a href="http://recalljimwest.com" & Committee to Recall Jim West & lt;/a & , which officially launched recall efforts a week ago. The bipartisan group includes Democratic Party advocates such as Hamilton and former U.S. congressional candidate Tom Keefe as well as Republicans like Shaun Cross (who also ran for Congress) and David Bray.
They have taken over the recall drive after super single mom Shannon Sullivan beat the odds in court and on the streets to get the petition on the ballot in order, as she has consistently said, to give the voters a voice.
Officially the recall petition charges West with abusing his office by offering enticements and a city internship to someone he believed was a gay teenager he was soliciting online for sex.
With an only-in-Spokane twist, the online boy-toy "Moto-Brock" turned out to be a retired federal agent hired by the newspaper to make sure the man they believed to be West online was indeed the mayor.
"This is abuse of newspaper privilege," West says, contending that a series of stories printed in the Spokesman-Review since early May has blown up his personal life and ruined his reputation as mayor of Spokane.
He has not even been charged with any crime, he says, much less found guilty of one. And, West says, he will sue the newspaper for invasion of privacy once the recall election is over.
There may not be anything criminal -- to date -- but the allegations have raised moral questions in the city. The allegations of trolling for sex with young men in their late teens or early 20s "may be legal, but I think it violates the standard of what the community expects from their elected officials," Keefe says.
When the Spokesman-Review first published the results of what it is calling a "two-year investigation," the allegations against West included pedophilia.
The newspaper quoted two men -- Robert Galliher and Michael Grant -- who said West molested them 30 years ago when they were boys and he was a sheriff's deputy and scout leader. West has vehemently denied the allegations. The statutes of limitation for criminal justice have long passed. Neither of the men is suing West, although a sex-abuse lawsuit has been filed against the late David Hahn, a former sheriff's deputy and friend of West's.
That story thread quickly faded into the background, however, and news coverage has morphed into West's use of his city-owned computer to cruise gay Web sites and enter chat rooms such as the one at gay.com where, under the screen names RightBi-Guy and Cobra82nd, West conversed and flirted with people he believed to be young men.
At least four have come forward to tell the Spokesman-Review they had sex with the mayor or were offered City Hall jobs. And for six months, the city has been under a cloud of allegations and denials -- as well as jokes on late-night television.
"This is a very disturbing topic," Hamilton says. "Happily it will be over in two weeks."
Ballots for the recall will be mailed to all Spokane registered voters on Nov. 18, county elections manager Paul Brandt says. To count in the election, the ballots must be postmarked by Dec. 6. Stamps are needed to return the ballots, but the county will have one drop-off site in each of the city's three council districts -- St. Mark's Lutheran at 24th Ave. and Grand Blvd., Lidgerwood Presbyterian at 4449 N. Nevada St. and Shadle Park Presbyterian at 5508 N. Alberta St.
A Short Cycle
In the sprint to get a message out, both sides will go to the airwaves, even though neither side appears to have a great deal of money.
Hamilton donated an estimated $20,000 of studio time to produce a pointed television commercial to aid the recall effort. Ever since last week, the group has been trying to raise enough money to get the 30-second commercial on the air. In a brilliant stroke, however, the campaign distributed the commercial at a press conference Oct. 26 and, in news coverage of the event, some TV stations in town ran bits of the commercial for free.
"We have about $2,000 through Friday [Oct. 28]," says Bray, chairman of the recall effort. The group hopes to raise $35,000.
One month after circulating an appeal for $150,000, West says he has about $10,000 in hand.
The disparity is not as big as it seems, contends Neil Beaver, a Democratic Party strategist and member of the recall committee. West is unlikely to have someone like Hamilton donate a commercial ready for airing and thus will have larger up-front costs to get materials together. The recall committee can start getting its commercial on cable television for as little as $500, Beaver says.
West says the money he has raised will help get started on commercials and mailers.
"I need to get out so the people can see I am not the evil person the Spokesman-Review would like them to believe I am," West says.
In his fund-raising letter, West mentions S-R editor Steven Smith by name six times and the newspaper by name 10 times. He bluntly blames the messenger with sentences such as "Steven Smith recently bragged in print about the 'muckraking' stories the newspaper has published since he became editor," and "Don't let Steven Smith rob us of the progress we're making in Spokane. His agenda is clear: he wants to land the 'big' story."
In the absence so far of any criminal charges, the election may hinge on media reports of the allegations against West.
"My message is I am innocent until proven guilty. These are allegations, not facts," West says. "The Spokesman-Review predicted a horde of victims would come forward" after the initial story on May 5, West says. "That failed to materialize because these allegations [of child sex abuse] are false.
"The Spokesman-Review tried to interview all my interns and all my staff from the last 20 years in Olympia," West, a former state senator, says. There have been no stories "because these allegations are false. They are trying to bend the election their way," the mayor says.
"I admit to online chatting. Is that illegal?"
Actually, at least two investigations are under way to answer that very question. The FBI seized the mayor's hard drive in late July and agents have been interviewing people around the city for months. Results of the investigation are not expected this week or next, The Inlander is told.
Spokane City Council is also investigating West's computer use. The Spokesman-Review has gone to court seeking the release of the contents of the hard drive. Judge John Miller of Adams County has yet to issue a ruling and hope is waning that one will come before the recall.
"I think this is the type of material the public should have access to, to judge the conduct of a public official," Duane Swinton, attorney for the daily newspaper, told The Inlander in early October.
Last week, with the clock ticking closer to the recall, Swinton said "It may be difficult" to get a ruling and survive appeals in time.
The recall proponents are walking a fine line, Bray says, pointing out what they call the mayor's moral conflicts but not straying into Scarlet Letter territory.
"We are not accusing him of any criminal act. We are not judging him," Bray says. "I think most men in his position would have resigned in 48 hours. But this is all he has. He will play every card in the deck."
West is ready to stay or go, depending on the results.
"I have abided by the will of the voters since 1978," he says. "I have more faith in voters than most people around here."