James Elton West, the former mayor of Spokane, Wash., who was ousted from office amidst a sex scandal, died on July 22 of complications from cancer surgery. He was 55.
Born in Salem, Ore., West attended the University of Nevada at Reno prior to enlisting in the U.S. Army. He served as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne Division for three years, and earned a certificate of completion in law enforcement at Johnston Technical Institute in N.C.
West’s career in law enforcement, however, was short-lived. Between 1975 and 1978, he worked as a patrolman for the Medical Lake (Wash.) Police Department and as a deputy sheriff for Spokane County. West obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Gonzaga University in Spokane and supervised a camping program for juveniles with minor offenses, then entered the political arena.
A former Boy Scout leader, Spokane city councilman and state senate majority leader, West spent the next two decades championing an anti-gay agenda. The lifelong Republican actively sought to have gays and lesbians barred from working in schools, day care centers and some state agencies, voted to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman, allowed a bill that would’ve banned discrimination against gays and lesbians to die in committee without a hearing and opposed giving benefits to domestic partners of City Hall workers. As such, voters in West’s district were quite surprised when the media revealed he was involved in a sex scandal.
After spending several years investigating West for sexual misconduct and misuse of his political position, The Spokesman-Review published an expose that revealed West frequented chat rooms on Gay.com and offered autographed sports memorabilia, seats to Seahawks and Mariners games and a City Hall internship to someone he thought was an 18-year-old high school student. The online pen pal was actually a forensic computer consultant working for the newspaper.
Allegations that West sexually molested two youths at a Boy Scout camp during the 1970s and early 1980s and offered city jobs to other gay partners were published in the newspaper as well. West categorically denied these claims and law enforcement officials could not confirm the accounts. Although the FBI launched a 10-month public corruption probe into his activities, West was never charged with a crime.
West did publicly acknowledge that he had had relations with adult men but claimed he hadn’t done anything illegal. He sent city staffers a remorseful e-mail, and refused to resign as mayor of Spokane. In response, the voters held a special election on Dec. 6, 2005, and recalled West on a single charge that he had used his office for personal benefit. He was the first Spokane city official to be recalled from office.
The sex scandal wasn’t the only time West found himself in hot water. In 1998, he threatened building industry lobbyist Tom McCabe over the publication of a newspaper ad. “You son of a bitch, you better get me ’cause if you don’t, you’re dead,” West said in a message recorded on McCabe’s voice mail. West was later charged with two misdemeanors. The court placed West on probation and ordered him to pay a $250 fine, make a $500 donation to charity and apologize.
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