We slide into a quiet booth in the back of a downtown café, just a couple of blokes taking a Friday morning break.
Coffee for me. Black.
Jim West orders green tea – with honey.
It hasn’t been a banner week for the Spokane mayor.
On top of being recalled from office by a humiliating landslide, he now has germs conspiring to give him a nasty chest cold. Even so, he accepts my request for a face-to-face meet.
This really must be the season for holiday miracles.
“I wish you no ill. And when I own the newspaper I’ll let you stay on,” West tells me, between sips of tea.
“As the restroom monitor.”
Oh, well. Better to have West throwing punch lines at me instead of actual punches.
During the past seven months, I banged away on the mayor’s cyber-sex scandal like it was my own comedy club piñata.
I make no apologies.
First off, I’m a wiseacre by nature. I think we all know that by now. Second, our mayor engaged in behavior that made him unsuitable to lead. He embarrassed himself. He embarrassed my city.
He should have stepped aside and spared us the drip-drip-drip water torture of a long, painful recall.
That would have been the right thing to do.
West views things through a different lens, of course. And whatever anyone may think of him, there is no arguing this: He is one tough, tenacious guy. West marshaled all the legal and political forces he could muster and tried to ride out the maelstrom.
Tuesday night the ordeal mercifully ended. Spokane voted to send its strong mayor packing – 40,456 to 21,806, when I last checked.
It feels good to breathe again, doesn’t it?
Only West, who will leave office Friday, can locate a silver lining in a cloud so black and bleak.
He points out with some pride that 21,000 people voted to not throw him out, adding:
“Do you have 21,000 people who even like you?”
I guess it depends on what day it is.
West keeps saying he is at peace. I’m beginning to believe him. He certainly seems relaxed as he sits there, hurling wry barbs at me.
“Remember your winter campout at the Lincoln statue, when I drove by and told you to get a job?”
I nod my head.
“You should have listened.”
I ask West what he thought of my satirical observations.
“I didn’t read you before,” he says. “Why should I read you now?”
What a shame. I believe West was on his way to becoming one of our better mayors. Over a lunch with him last spring, I predicted he would be re-elected and break the city’s long curse of the one-term mayor. Some psychic I am.
Then came the not-so-merry month of May. We all know what happened. An investigation by this newspaper dropped a bombshell. The mayor had abused his position by soliciting dates with young men through a gay Internet chat line.
There’s no need to rehash it all again.
Most people would have resigned in shame. West dug in.
“I don’t run from bullies,” he tells me. “When you run from a bully, they just go find someone else to attack. You’ve been so focused on me, you couldn’t go after other people.”
West’s next order of business is simple.
“Find a job,” he says.
He talks of writing a book about his travails. He mentions the possibility of hosting a radio talk show.
And then there is West’s ongoing struggle with cancer. That battle I hope he wins.
“Hey, I got to be mayor,” he says when I ask him if he has any regrets. “I got to do some great things.”
I look at my watch. I know West isn’t feeling well. I apologize for keeping him so long.
“You’re not keeping me,” quips our recalled mayor. “I don’t have anything to do.”
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