Spokane Mayor Steps Aside To Fight Newspaper’s Charges in Sex Case

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(AP) Mayor James West said on Monday that he would take a leave of absence for a “few weeks” to prepare to defend himself against a newspaper’s reports of child molesting.

West, a longtime Republican foe of gay rights, told the City Council that the contentions in The Spokesman-Review last week were false.

“I hope that you and the people will reserve judgment on me until the newspaper is done persecuting me and allow me to have the fair opportunity to respond to each of the allegations in due time,” West said at the start of a Council meeting. He left without taking questions.

In Monday’s newspaper account, Ryan Oelrich, an openly gay 24-year-old, told the paper he accepted West’s appointment to the city’s Human Rights Commission in April 2004 after meeting West online at Gay.com.

Oelrich said he resigned from the commission in January after West “hounded me for months, telling me I was cute and asking me out on dates.” Oelrich said he refused the mayor’s advances, the newspaper reported. Oelrich told the newspaper he knows of “five or six other young gay men that Jim West has met online and offered City Hall jobs.”

The newspaper said another man, who is 25 and spoke on condition of anonymity, claims West, who is divorced, offered him a job as the city’s human resources director and then a post as the city’s aquatics director. The man rejected both offers.

Earlier on Monday, city officials seized Mayor West’s City Hall computers for an investigation into whether he improperly used them to visit gay online chat rooms.

West, a longtime Republican foe of gay rights, has acknowledged offering autographed sports memorabilia and a possible City Hall internship to someone he thought was an 18-year-old man in a gay online chat room. The man was actually a computer expert hired by The Spokesman-Review as part of a journalism sting operation.

City officials on Monday were organizing an independent investigation into West’s possible misuse of city computers, City Attorney Mike Connelly said.

On Thursday, The Spokesman-Review reported on West’s online activities, along with allegations that West molested boys while he was a sheriff’s deputy and Boy Scout leader in the late 1970s and early 1980s. West denied the molestation claims but acknowledged that he had visited a gay chat room and had relations with men.

West was in meetings Monday morning and did not immediately return a call for comment from The Associated Press.

He also disputed a story in Sunday’s Spokesman-Review that quoted a city councilwoman as saying West told her that he had masturbated in his office. West said he was at home, not in his office, when the simulated online sex occurred, the newspaper reported.

The Spokesman-Review called for West’s resignation, saying in an editorial Sunday that he can no longer govern effectively. The Seattle Times also called for West to step down.

Spokane County Auditor Vicky Dalton said she has received requests for recall information, but no one had filed petitions necessary to start the process.

A national gay advocacy organization called on West to step down.

“This man ? whether he’s straight, bisexual, or gay ? deserves nothing but scorn,” said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force in Washington, D.C. “He needs to resign immediately.”

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