JASON GOES WEST

West stood up in front of the crowds and told them, that while he may have been second with gay marriage, after San Francisco’s Mayor Gavin Newsom started marrying couples in February, he had been planning his move for a long time.

“We had talked about it, and when I ran for mayor I realized I could actually do something about it – but we’d been thinking about it last summer,” he said.

The 26-year-old mayor, a house painter by trade and Green Party member, is warming to his role as a public figure. Earnest and sincere, dressed in what has become a signature rumpled blue suit, without a tie (and at the brunch with a boutonnière – like an usher in a wedding), he talked self-deprecatingly about how he really didn’t know what to do when confronted with conflicting demands for interviews with CNN and The New York Times. But when the hubbub died down, and the courts stopped the New Paltz marriages on March 5, West found himself facing 24 criminal counts of solemnizing a marriage without a license.

West said that Ulster County District Attorney Donald Williams is not likely to seek jail time in his case, but he is looking down the barrel at $24,000 in fines – and legal fees that will likely top that amount. West is the only official in the rash of same-sex weddings in February who faces criminal charges.

West told the groups that he is starting a group called the New Paltz Equality Initiative to raise money and train activists. But his California hosts guess that West himself will need the group’s help when it comes time to pay his fees and fines. West, 26, earns only an $8,000 honorarium as mayor.

And he’s facing civil lawsuits as well. He says fundamentalist Jerry Falwell is threatening suit to remove him from office.

“He hasn’t sued yet, but I can’t wait for that one,” said the mayor who was elected last June on a platform of promoting locally-owned business and maintaining the small-town appeal of his village of 6,000. “Just for the press alone… we’re praying for a jury trial.”

–Joe Dignan

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