Former Spokane Mayor James West Dies of Complications From Cancer Surgery

Former Mayor James E. West, who opposed gay-rights bills but was recalled from office over an Internet gay sex scandal, died Saturday of complications from recent cancer surgery. He was 55.a

The conservative former Republican state senate majority leader was diagnosed in early 2003 with colon cancer that later spread to his liver. A statement issued by University of Washington Medical Center said his family and pastor were at his side at the Seattle hospital.

"As a family we wish to thank the caregivers at University of Washington Medical Center, and the many friends of Jim for their support and prayers," the family said in their statement.

Seven months after The Spokesman-Review newspaper began publishing results of a computer "sting" it conducted to track the mayor's online activities in a gay chat room, West was ousted from office on Dec. 6, 2005, on a single charge that he used his office for personal benefit.

West 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 councilman, Boy Scout leader and sheriff's deputy had frequently opposed gay-rights bills during his 20 years in the state House and Senate.

The newspaper alleged 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. I just wish I hadn't," West told The Associated Press in an Oct. 31, 2005, interview. "I scratch my head today. I can't tell you why."

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

Spokesman-Review Editor Steve Smith said the newspaper had no comment on West's death aside from a statement that read: "Our job today is to report the news. Anything else would be inappropriate and unfair to his family and friends. To them, we extend our sympathies."

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

Dino Rossi, a former Republican Senate budget chairman, said West was a gifted politician who gave his colleagues room to get their jobs done. "He didn't micromanage things," Rossi told The Associated Press on Saturday.

Rossi was a freshman when West let him serve on the budget-writing committee. "He gave me many opportunities to succeed," Rossi said.

Less than 18 months into his four-year term, The Spokesman-Review began publishing its series on the mayor's online activities.

West fought the recall, despite calls for his resignation by the City Council, business leaders, and the state and local Republican parties.

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

Instead, voters kicked him out of office.

West was divorced and had no children. He is survived by his father, a brother and sister.