James E. West, 55; Ousted Mayor of Spokane, Wash.

An Internet sex scandal ended James E. West's 27-year career in politics. He died after complications from surgery.
An Internet sex scandal ended James E. West's 27-year career in politics. He died after complications from surgery. (By Elaine Thompson -- Associated Press)
Associated Press
Sunday, July 23, 2006

James E. West, the former mayor of Spokane, Wash., who opposed gay rights bills but was recalled from office over an Internet gay sex scandal, died July 22 of complications from recent cancer surgery at the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. He was 55.

The former state Senate majority leader's colon cancer, which later spread to his liver, was diagnosed in 2003.

Mr. West, a conservative Republican, was recalled by voters in a special election on Dec. 6, after a charge that he used his office for personal benefit. He was officially stripped of his duties 10 days later.

His departure came seven months after the Spokesman-Review newspaper of Spokane began publishing results of a computer "sting" it conducted to track the mayor's online activities in a gay chat room.

He was the first Spokane city official to be recalled from office, ending a 27-year career in city and state politics. The former Spokane City Council member, Boy Scout leader and sheriff's deputy had frequently opposed gay rights bills during his 20 years in the state House of Representatives and Senate.

The newspaper alleged that he offered to help someone he thought was an 18-year-old high school student get a City Hall internship during Internet chats that involved discussions about sex.

"I wish I had never gone online at all," Mr. West told the Associated Press in October. "I scratch my head today. I can't tell you why."

He acknowledged having relations with adult men but denied doing anything illegal. He was never criminally charged, although the FBI conducted a public corruption investigation.

After two terms in the state House, Mr. West served four terms in the state Senate, rising to the position of majority leader before stepping down in 2003 to run for his "dream job" as Spokane mayor.

Less than 18 months into his four-year term, the Spokesman-Review began publishing its series on the mayor's online activities. Mr. West fought the recall effort, despite pleas for his resignation from the City Council, business leaders and state and local Republican leaders.

"It's an unusual episode in my life. I wish there was a rewind button; rewind and erase and start over," Mr. West told the Associated Press. "Basically, that's what I'm asking the public, for a second chance."

Instead, voters kicked him out of office.

Mr. West was divorced after five years of marriage to his wife, Ginger, and had no children. He is survived by his father, a brother and a sister.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company