by Inlander Staff & r & Jim West might as well be Spokane in human form, which is why it's so painful to contemplate throwing him over the side to keep the city afloat. He is one of us. Raised in a modest home in East Central, his dreams were tempered by reality early and often. Still, his persistence led to a distinguished career as a public servant -- a career that culminated with a return to lead his hometown to a brighter future. Now that city he personifies -- a city that doesn't let its hard luck extinguish its optimism, a city more conservative than really suits it -- is asked to write the last chapter of this twisting story.
Psychoanalyzing West isn't as hard as it looks. He had a secret he was ashamed of (we'll call it a confused sexuality), and he tried to hide it. That explains the hypocrisy of his political stands against equal rights when it comes to sexual orientation. Remember, the reputedly gay J. Edgar Hoover was the biggest gay-basher of them all. On this, the West case may provide even more evidence that living a closeted life is not the healthiest choice. (But it is a choice, and an odd one, as public service and personal secrets don't typically mix.)
While that analysis may explain it, there is no excuse for choosing to harbor so ugly a personal trait as hypocrisy. Based on his past behavior, the controversy West is caught up in is just the kind he would have piled onto if the victim had a "D" behind his or her name.
Of course, West's confused sexuality also drove his behavior; perhaps his recent brush with mortality as he fought cancer has led him to be more reckless in the way he sought gratification. Which brings us to the recall.
Contrary to what you hear on the street, the recall is not about giving out internships or city jobs for sex. No such instance has been proven. It is, however, about West's willingness to trade on his power to get such things. Is intention alone a crime punishable by recall? That is the question.
Even though the recall only specifically addresses this one element of the case against the mayor, people will be voting for all kinds of reasons. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with that; he works for the citizens, and they get the final say.
When we urged the mayor to resign on May 12, we wrote: "It's about the kind of mayor we want representing us, and it's about removing distractions so the city can move forward."
Nothing has changed since then: West is not the kind of mayor we want representing us. It's clear he attempted to use his position to further personal relationships; that may not be illegal, but it is, at the very least, inappropriate. That those personal relationships were with very young people makes it even more so. It's the kind of behavior you would frown at in your neighbor, but it's not acceptable in your mayor.
Additionally, the mayor has had the prefix "alleged pedophile" attached to his name, and he has been unable to shake it in the months since the Spokesman-Review, Robert Galliher and Michael Grant put it there. If that charge is false, as the mayor argues, it's a grave career-ending injustice. Unfortunately, we just don't know the truth, which puts it squarely in the category of "removing distractions so the city can move forward."
In the months since this scandal broke, the city has been put into a state of partial paralysis. If West keeps his job, the controversy will only drag on, as investigations continue and his own lawsuits may start. West has lost his ability to lead; it's been like putting cement shoes on the city's feet as it runs this race toward greater prosperity.
But let's be clear about what we're losing here: In two years, West has proven to be the first mayor Spokane has had in recent memory who can not only work the levers of government efficiently but who also understands how to challenge and change the kind of cultural inertia that has held city government back. Dennis Hession, who is willing to take on the job of mayor, may not have West's political skill and governmental experience, but he has won a citywide election, and he offers the city a trustworthy alternative, if the City Council selects him to serve as mayor.
This recall is about passing judgment on the mayor. Still, many citizens may wonder where on their ballot they can vote to recall the Spokesman-Review. Whether the newspaper likes it or not, no discussion of the recall is complete without some reflection on the city's arbiter of the public good for the past 110-odd years. Over the past decade or so, the Review has had an uncanny knack for involving itself in the city's dysfunction -- often causing it. And by inserting themselves into this story by assuming the power of deception as a news-gathering tool, they have done it again.
There's a line between covering a mayor and haranguing a mayor; where that line falls can be debated. But it's clear that the Review and its owners have had a hand in throwing every mayor since 1993 under the bus: Jack Geraghty by promising him their mall was a risk-free deal; John Talbott by branding him a "civic terrorist"; and John Powers by belittling his every idea. Manipulation, name-calling, lack of fairness -- West may deserve what he's getting, but readers are right to detect a troubling pattern.
"We've always got to accentuate the negative, and that's the problem with Spokane," Mitch Jensen, a Spokane teacher told us last summer. "As soon as something starts going good, somebody's got to throw water on it. That's what this felt like -- things were going good, and we had to kick Spokane down again."
Review Editor Steve Smith seems to acknowledge this dynamic in general terms when he told us last week that, "We tend to tear down institutions; we tend to not be skilled at building them back up. We have to learn how to engage in that half of the equation. We can't always be throwing rocks. We have to help patch things up, too."
Hopefully, Smith is sincere and the Review is turning a corner -- how they treat West's replacement will tell the story. The city needs a daily newspaper that is aggressive but fair. Otherwise, we get what we have now -- citizens losing trust in institutions and leaders that let them down. And Mayor West admits that he brought this mess on himself. What West fails to recognize, however, is that he brought this mess on all of us, and clearing his name is simply not the city of Spokane's fight.
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