Spokane Mayor West's public and private lives contrast
During his 18 months in office, Spokane Mayor Jim West has summarized his campaign to restore civility and professionalism to the fractious...
Seattle Times staff reporter
SPOKANE — During his 18 months in office, Spokane Mayor Jim West has summarized his campaign to restore civility and professionalism to the fractious politics of City Hall with a catchphrase: "Dare to be dull."
This week, as a sex scandal tore through this city's political structure, West added a new quote: "I have always considered a person's private life private."
West's admission this week that he frequented a gay Web site and had "relations with adult men" appears at odds with his 25-year political career.
A lifelong Republican and former state Senate majority leader, West was best known in Olympia as a fiscal conservative. He rarely led on social issues.
Still, he opposed extending protected-class status to gays during his two decades in the state Legislature, and last week threatened to veto a city ordinance giving benefits to the gay partners of city employees.
In 1986, he supported legislation barring gays and lesbians from working in schools and day-care centers. At the time, he was actively involved in the Boy Scouts.
"He acknowledged he compartmentalized, building a wall between his public and private selves," said Blaine Garvin, a political-science professor at Gonzaga University in Spokane. "When you do that, you're not being honest with yourself. I think it's appropriately called hypocrisy."
State Rep. Bob McCaslin , a Spokane Valley Republican who served with West, disagrees.
"If you talk about [gay] rights, and his philosophy, I don't see any hypocrisy," he said. "I'm sure some people will, if in fact he's gay."
West told The Spokesman-Review newspaper that his opposition to gay-rights legislation doesn't mean he supports discrimination. "I have never been outspoken against gays, I have never discriminated against gays," he said. "It's dicey to vote for those bills I consider an extension of a benefit that didn't exist, need to exist."
West also vigorously denied more serious allegations published in The Spokesman-Review that he molested two young boys in the 1970s. He was a Spokane County sheriff's deputy and Boy Scout volunteer at the time.
He called those accusations "flat lies."
The newspaper also reported that West offered a City Hall internship to someone he believed was an 18-year-old high-school student whom he contacted through the gay Web site. The "teenager" in fact was a computer expert posing as a student and hired by The Spokesman-Review to confirm that West used the site.
West declined to talk about the scandal yesterday. He tried to go about his normal business, ignoring questions from a scrum of reporters at a morning appearance in support of Spokane's sister-city program.
"It's a great day," he said during the appearance. "Of course, every day is a great day."
The contrast between West's political stands on gay-rights issues and his now-public sexual orientation has begun grating on residents of the state's second-largest city.
Dan Mitchinson, news director for Spokane's conservative talk-radio station KGA, said West's string of accomplishments had gained him fans. But his station has been flooded with criticism from listeners, he said.
"This is a person who you thought you knew from this legislative stuff and the campaign trail, but then he does an about-face," Mitchinson said.
Political leaders and citizens yesterday appeared split on whether West could survive the scandal. The Spokane County Elections Office said it had received an inquiry yesterday about the recall process, and City Council member Cherie Rodgers called on him to resign.
The last openly gay person to run for a citywide office, Dean Lynch, lost by 49 votes out of 16,200 cast.
Tom Rasmussen, Seattle's first openly gay councilman, said that living in the closet can result in a "tortured life."
"The irony is that it's because of policies he and others have advocated that people lead tormented and tragic lives," Rasmussen said.
"I think disclosure by a person is up to them as individuals. But I can't accept the integrity of a person who is gay and actually advocates for discrimination against people who are gay."
In a debate during his failed run for mayor of Spokane in 2000, West said that "people still disagree if it [homosexuality] is a learned behavior or one you're born with."
Three years later, he said he opposed extending protections for gays and lesbians as bad for business.
Rick Forcier, executive director of the Christian Coalition of Washington, said it's not uncommon for people to live one life in public and another in private.
"Here's a man who knows right from wrong. Evidently, his flesh has been in control of his spirit," Forcier said. "I don't think he was trying to be two different people. I think he was two different people. I hope he seeks professional help."
West resigned Thursday from the Inland Northwest Council of the Boy Scouts of America, and was added yesterday to a national list of "ineligible volunteers."
Had he not resigned, the council would have had to decide whether West's admissions that he contacted young men through the gay Web site disqualify him from scouting, said Tim McCandless, the council's executive.
The resignation absolved the council of that decision, he said.
West also resigned yesterday from the board of the Morningstar Boys Ranch, a home for troubled teenagers in Spokane founded by the Catholic Church.
"He asked us to keep him in our prayers," said P.J. Watters, a spokesman for the ranch. "That's something the whole community needs right now."
Staff reporter Bob Young and staff researcher David Turim contributed to this report. Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or firstname.lastname@example.org
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.