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Unlikely Pen Pals 

by Robert Herold & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & O & lt;/span & ne day down at The Inlander, back during the mayoral campaign, I ran into Candidate Jim West. He was coming in to be interviewed by Ted McGregor. No doubt knowing that I had opposed him in every one of his many campaigns, the ever-combative West couldn't resist telling me that in my previous column I had taken a "cheap shot" at him. I took his use of the term to mean that I had expressed a difference of perception or opinion. I knew that it didn't take much to get on West's bad guy list.


Given our many and fundamental differences of opinion and temperament, we made unlikely pen pals, yet during the last seven months of West's life, that's exactly what we became. From February until just before his death, Jim West and I exchanged e-mails, upwards of 40 in all. With each exchange, we found ourselves reaching deeper into ever-broader questions of politics and government. His first communication to me, however, which came in February shortly after he had left office, was vintage West:





Bob:


Get over it. I'm gone. I noticed in today's Inlander that I'm to blame for the street tree issue on Bernard even though I'm gone. Last time we chatted, of course, I was responsible for the overcast skies, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me that everything that goes bad is somehow my fault. What about Wal-Mart at 42nd and Regal, is that my fault too? Lighten up. I'll take responsibilities for things that are my fault, but this isn't one of them.


Jim





I answered, he returned fire, and we were off. Then, after several more rounds, something odd began to happen: We were listening to each other. Instead of making points, we sought clarification. With clarification came understanding and discovery. And we discovered that, lo and behold, we actually agreed on quite a bit. What I had missed in Jim was his transformation, from the narrowly partisan state representative of the early years into a much more pragmatic and mature politician. He had grown to embrace Lyndon Johnson's adage: Politics is the art of the possible. And even though his temper would continue to cause him trouble, he had come to accept that today's political opponent may well be tomorrow's necessary vote. Nor had I appreciated his interest in ideas, nor the delight he took in just having a rousing good argument.


Our ever-expanding range of agreement, however, never failed to amaze him.





Bob:


Right on! I can't stand it, I'm agreeing with you again. No, seriously, you are right on. The Council needs a pro staff, and you laid it out pretty well. They also need their very own attorney and not one from the City Attorney's office.


Jim


When the scandal broke, I wrote several columns urging him to resign. But in our seven months of correspondence, he never spoke directly about his travails. I came to understand that Jim West was not a man to wallow in self-pity. In one e-mail, he spoke of everything he had wanted to do as mayor. He ended his communication with, "... until I screwed up." No anger. No excuses. Just, "I screwed up."








& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & oward the end of June, he expressed his views on the strong mayor. He drew the distinction between mayor as parent and mayor as servant. He favored the latter. I thought his application of this theory to Spokane was very insightful and gave him full credit. In a poignantly timely letter that reveals much and will surprise many, Jim demurred and explained himself:





Bob:


Wish I could take credit for it. It's really a distillation of almost everything I've learned about true leadership. Colonel Larry Donnethorne in his book, West Point Way of Leadership, explains that one of the first lessons they have to teach the cadets is that every human has a boss, even the President.


Since I really began my self-study of leadership, I've grown to be a big fan of the idea of servant leadership.


In my long political career, I've found that many of my colleagues seemed to be instantly smart once they were elected. They also (both libs and cons) soon believed that their responsibility was to look out for the best interests of their constituents and only they knew what those were.


Servant Leader = "I'll get you what you need to be successful, and I'll listen closely to you to find out what that is."


Parent Leader = "I'll tell what you need and even do it for you because I don't trust you to get it right. I don't really care what you think you need because I'm clearly smarter than you."


Some believe it is their responsibility to solve every problem and wipe every nose. A true leader knows that they should make sure their subs have all the tools to solve problems and tissues for their own noses.


I love this.


Jim





Yes he did. Jim did love this.


On July 11, our correspondence ended. He would die less than two weeks later. I'll miss him.
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