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Recall Reality 

Five Mile Heights Pizza isn't normally this crowded on a Tuesday night. But on this particular Tuesday night, it's a carnival. In a low-ceilinged side room packed with arcade games and an air hockey machine, nearly 100 people are standing nervously, talking loudly, whispering to each other, "When are they supposed to announce it?" Sugar-high children zig-zag between adults too preoccupied to notice much. Photographers hover with their cameras. Reporters pace in corners, talking on their cell phones. Old-timers in plaid shirts and attractive young women alike crowd two long narrow tables, flanked at either end by television screens. It's like New Year's Eve, and everyone's waiting for the ball to drop. If someone were to light a match right now, the whole place would go up in a bonfire of anxiety.

Standing in the middle of it all, with a glass of red wine in one hand and Jerry Davis, her lawyer and best friend, on her arm, is Shannon Sullivan, the former political novice who showed up at the county auditor's office on May 6 looking for a line of people eager to recall the mayor. That was exactly seven months before this night. In that time, she's fended off media attacks on her character, she's lived in a trailer on North Division for 30 days collecting petitions and she's argued cases at three different judicial levels, including the state Supreme Court in Olympia. But now she's sweating bullets. In 12 minutes, the television screens' regularly scheduled programming will be interrupted by a live report from the county auditor's office.

Sullivan's son, 9-year-old Dylan, clings to his mother and peppers her with questions. "No candy tonight," she tells him before he disappears into the next room. City Councilwoman Mary Verner is here with her grandchildren. Ryan Oelrich, the young man who said Mayor Jim West offered him a board position for sexual favors is here, too. So is Robert Galliher, the man who says the mayor sexually abused him as a child in the 1970s, and whose story was the dynamite behind the Spokesman-Review's first explosive story on May 5. Galliher, who has been silent since then, clings close to the periphery of the room. Curiously, the media don't attack him.

On the TV screens, NCIS cuts out suddenly. It's a KREM special report. The room grows quiet. Sullivan and Davis face the big-screen with stone faces. There's reporter Lee Stoll. "Vicky Dalton is approaching the white board," she says. Wordlessly, the county auditor strolls into view, marker in hand. Recall Yes: 65%. There's a slight yelp from the collective masses before Dalton concludes, Recall No: 35% and the room explodes in an ear-shattering, ecstatic scream. Flash bulbs burst like lightning as Davis and Sullivan hug the life out of each other, lunatic grins on their faces. Within seconds, the crowd is chanting "Leave our city, leave our city." They give Sullivan a rousing ovation, as she turns to face the press.

When she's not answering reporters' stupid questions (How do you feel? Are you surprised? What's next?), she's hugging an endless line of supporters, weeping almost uncontrollably.

She turns to The Inlander, and with not a little sarcasm, says "The uneducated, unemployed single mother has been vindicated."

 

Meanwhile over at Hamilton Studios in the West Central neighborhood, the crowd was smaller and, even though there were bursts of raucous laughter, the mood was a bit more somber.

"I think we have a different view of what this thing means for the city," says Tom Keefe, a former Democratic Congressional candidate and member of the bipartisan board of the recall committee. "In some ways, this is a sad day for the city. Recalling your mayor is not a positive exercise.

"And you have to have some sympathy for a guy whose political career just imploded tonight," Keefe adds. "Tonight is not associated with the joy of electoral politics."

Neil Beaver, a legislative aide for Democratic state senator Lisa Brown, is a bit more joyful. "I'm happy with the way our community voted on this. Obviously he doesn't belong in office any more. He misused his place in office and needs to be gone."

The committee to recall the mayor raised about $8,000 and spent all but $100, Keefe says, on airing a commercial produced and donated by Spokane photographer and filmmaker Don Hamilton.

"We spent a very limited amount of money," recall committee board member and businessman Ed Renouard says. "The fact is, the story was so well covered in the news media it wasn't really a matter of us raising anybody's awareness."

The board members and guests did pop one champagne cork, Renouard says, "But I wouldn't categorize this as a celebration. It's more of an observance."

 

The Mayor wasn't celebrating either, as he spent the evening with a small group at the home of friends. After the ballot run was posted on the county elections Web site, the mayor's cell phone went off like a string of firecrackers as media outlets and others called for comment.

"The people have spoken," West tells The Inlander, his voice hoarse with a cold. "I had a great two years, done some great things. I've benefited from a great crew at City Hall, and I hope the progress we've begun will continue."

He says he will discuss current and future projects with soon-to-be-interim Mayor Dennis Hession to help ease the transition.

In his final days, West says he will continue to do what he has done while fighting this recall -- busy himself with the budget. His three-pronged plan covers a shortfall of more than $6 million in the city's 2006 general fund.

In early November, West successfully pitched a proposal for voters to raise property taxes, and on Monday the City Council agreed to a 3 percent hike in city utility taxes.

The third leg -- an estimated $850,000 benefit giveback by city workers -- is still in the works.

"Local 270 voted by 68 percent to tentatively accept the agreement. Local 29, the fire union, we were in negotiation with them today," West adds. He is also still negotiating with the police guild. "We've got nearly all the money we need. I knew it was going to happen. I had great faith we could put a budget together."

West remains mayor until the recall election is certified on Dec. 16. "I will continue to meet with union leaders and folks. Basically, I'll say farewell to people," he says. "I'll get around and talk to folks and encourage them to keep their heads up regardless of who is mayor."

Once out of office, West says he plans to move forward with a lawsuit against the Spokesman-Review for invasion of privacy.

 

Now all eyes are on Dennis Hession. As Spokane City Council President (a job he won by citywide election), Hession appears to be the obvious choice to replace Jim West. He will become interim mayor when West leaves office, and he would be able to finish the last two years of West's term if a majority of the City Council votes to place him in that job.

"I'm prepared to accept the responsibilities as the appointed mayor if the council should decide to do that," Hession says after talking to Northwest Cable News from his home Tuesday night. "I feel strongly that this appointment should be a council member."

Since the charter specifically states the mayor can hold no other job, becoming mayor will require shuttering his law practice, something Hession says he is ready to do.

Hession adds that he's not sure when the council will take up the issue, but he believes they will act quickly to fill the void West is leaving behind. With 65 percent of voters wanting West out of office, Hession says the council needs to be decisive.

"That 65 percent -- it's a strong comment from people about the concerns they have had over these past seven months," Hession says. "They felt that we needed to move on and get leadership back in City Hall."

In the later stages of the race, West seemed to view Hession as one of his enemies -- after all, Hession was a vocal supporter of the recall. But Hession could have inserted himself into the recall even more than he did. Now he hopes to work with West.

"It would be my hope that he would give me the benefit of all of his wisdom and experience," Hession says. "I would welcome his assistance in effecting a smooth and amicable transition."

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