It wasn't just that the anti-gay mayor was attracted to men. Though that was a lot of it.
There had long been rumors. But the Spokesman-Review went to incredible, tabloidy lengths to prove them. The newspaper hired a consultant (code name: Moto-Brock) to pretend to be a 17-year-old boy and flirt — in explicit detail — with the anonymous account on Gay.com that Spokesman reporters believed was Spokane Mayor Jim West (pictured). It was only when Moto-Brock pretended to turn 18 that West agreed to meet him in person. The newspaper was there, secretly photographing the mayor.
The Spokesman had everything it needed to show that the mayor had offered internships and volunteer appointments to the young men he'd met online. But it went even further, alleging that West may have molested boys in the mid-1970s.
The paper never could prove that element of the story, but it scarcely mattered: Social liberals saw a hypocrite, while social conservatives saw a pervert.
West was defiant. He refused to resign. So the city rose up against him, recalling the once-popular mayor in a landslide. West died less than eight months later, due to complications following cancer surgery.
It's impossible to know how the scandal would have unfolded differently in today's landscape. On the one hand, a middle-aged mayor using city internships to lure teens he's sexually interested in? Still scandalous.
But public opinion on few issues has changed as swiftly as it has regarding gay rights. A decade later, gay marriage was legalized in all 50 states. Today, West may still have hidden his attraction to men behind the wall of internet anonymity.
Or perhaps he wouldn't have felt the need to.