Three Spokane City Council primary candidates sent supportive e-mails to Mayor Jim West in May shortly after allegations were published that West was using his office to seek dates and possibly sex with young men.
One candidate, Judith Gilmore, said in her e-mail she was canceling her subscription to The Spokesman-Review for what she declared was a “non-story.”
Gilmore, one of seven candidates seeking to replace outgoing Councilwoman Cherie Rodgers in Spokane’s Northwest District, acknowledged Thursday that she and her husband did cancel their subscription for about a month in protest over what they saw as “National Enquirer” journalism.
“In those early days, we thought he’d been dealt kind of a crummy deal,” Gilmore said. She later thought the stories had more credibility when Ryan Oelrich, a West appointee to the Human Rights Commission, told the newspaper the mayor had offered him $300 to swim naked in a pool.
The Gilmores resolved not to subscribe again until the West story came off The Spokesman-Review’s front page. In the meantime, she said, they bought the paper each day and “I have read every story” about the West controversy, she said.
Supportive e-mail messages also were sent by Dallas Hawkins and Councilwoman Mary Verner, who are in a three-way primary race for the south side’s council seat.
An investigative series of stories published beginning May 5 included allegations by two men that West, a former Boy Scout leader, had sexually abused them when they were Scouts in the late 1970s. West denies those allegations as “flat lies.”
On May 6, Gilmore sent an e-mail to West’s then-administrative assistant, Melissa Murphy, asking her to forward to West the contents of the message. A copy of the forwarded message was obtained through a subsequent public records request for West’s office computer records.
Gilmore’s e-mail was among hundreds of messages West received – both supporting him and condemning him – in the days after the scandal surfaced.
In the e-mail to West, Gilmore wrote that she and her husband, James, were thinking of West and “we are both repulsed by the manner in which the S-R is reporting this non-story, and we have, along with dozens of others, cancelled our subscription to the paper hopefully as a message to them.”
Gilmore continued, “We are in total agreement with the idea that the private areas of each person’s life are just that, and it is a concept we have always supported. We are always concerned when the media decides to become judge and jury as they also play the role of purveyor of accusations.”
They concluded, “We wish him the best in these trying times.”
On Thursday, Gilmore said she learned the importance of reserving judgment as an aide to former Gov. Mike Lowry when he faced sexual harassment allegations that were eventually deemed insufficient. As the West stories unfolded, she has formed the opinion that the mayor improperly used his city computer and should release the hard drive, which the newspaper has requested under the state’s Open Records Law.
“As a human being, I hate to see him going through this. But if he’s used the power of his office to get the things he wanted, that’s clearly wrong,” she said. Her conversations with voters on the campaign trail led her to conclude that public opinion is mixed on what should happen to West and how the newspaper handled its investigation.
Gilmore said she won’t sign the recall petition but she supports the process going forward to give Spokane a chance to settle the matter and vote on whether West should be ousted.
Other candidates in the Northwest District have a wide range of sentiments on West and the recall.
Former City Councilman Steve Corker called for West’s resignation almost from the beginning of the scandal and has helped with the recall effort. He said the passion over West seems to have cooled among voters and many candidates are “relieved” the recall won’t be on the Nov. 8 general election ballot.
Barbara Lampert, an out lesbian, said she knew for many years that West was gay.
“If somebody wants to be in the closet, that’s their business,” she said. “I will not vote for the recall because I don’t think he’s done anything actionable.”
Joyce McNamee said she hears little about West in her talks with voters and tries to avoid the mayor’s problems as a campaign issue. Both the judicial process that could come from the FBI investigation of West’s activity and the recall are moving forward separately from her campaign, she said.
In the South District race, Verner is seeking election to the seat she filled through a council appointment. She is facing Hawkins, an independent insurance agency owner, and Gonzaga physics Professor Jeffrey Bierman.
Verner said she e-mailed the mayor a one-sentence message of support in response to an apologetic e-mail the mayor sent to all city employees on May 5, the morning the newspaper published its first stories involving the scandal.
“It was pretty non-committal,” Verner said of her response, which she does not regret because it was “the humane thing to do.”
Hawkins and his wife, Kathie, sent an e-mail to “express our personal support to you during this very difficult time. We believe in your personal strength and your ability to overcome this setback and continue to be effective in your position as mayor of Spokane.”
Hawkins earlier this week said, “I stand by that. I consider it a personal communication” to offer personal support for “someone who is going through a very difficult time.”
But Hawkins said he is “dismayed and saddened by the allegations.” He said he approves of the need for a recall election and added, “I think all of us will be happier when this is behind us.”
Hawkins previously said the City Council’s unanimous vote in May, in which the council called for West’s resignation, was premature.
Verner said her belief that West should resign was solidified a few days after the scandal became public, when she began learning more details about the allegations. She voted with the rest of the council May 31 in a call for his resignation.
Bierman said he did not send an e-mail to West because he had no basis upon which to communicate with the mayor. “I’m not sure why I would have sent anything to him,” he said, adding that those who did may have had a professional friendship that caused them to write.
“I don’t see how that’s inappropriate or anything,” Bierman said of the supportive e-mails.
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