Dogged newspaper uncovers decades-old charges against closeted mayor
Until last Thursday, residents of Spokane, Washington state’s second-largest city and the economic hub of its conservative eastern end, knew their first-term Republican mayor, who earlier served as the state Senate majority leader, as a strong opponent of gay rights and someone who saw government as an arbiter of private sexual behavior.
While in the state Legislature in Olympia, Mayor James West had backed an unsuccessful effort to bar gay men and lesbians from working in schools, day-care centers and some state agencies and proposed, also without success, a bizarre law that would have criminalized sex between underage youths.
But in a blizzard of words printed on May 5 and posted on its Web site, the Spokesman-Review, a Spokane daily, reported that, in fact, the city’s mayor is a closeted gay man who made frequent use of the Internet—gay.com, specifically—to meet young gay men, some of whom he enticed with offers of prime sports tickets, exposure to important people in the city and state and paid internships at City Hall.
At least one young gay man has come forward with charges that the mayor, without revealing his identity, courted him online and then, acting separately as the mayor, induced him to accept an appointment to the City Human Rights Commission as a pretext to “hound” him for sexual favors.
More ominously, the Spokesman-Review’s reporting revealed that two men, one of them in a court deposition, have alleged that West raped them when they were 7-12-year-old Boy Scouts, when the mayor worked in the sheriff’s office and worked as a scout leader. Both of the men, Robert J. Galiher and Michael G. Grant, Jr., allege that they were abused, either at camp or in sheriff’s department vehicles, by West and a colleague, David Hahn, who was also active as a scout leader but who committed suicide in August 1981 when accusations of pedophilia first surfaced. Galiher, who said he witnessed Hahn’s suicides, alleges that West stopped molesting him at that point. Eight months after Hahn’s suicide, George E. Robey, a friend of West and Hahn who was also a scout leader, also committed suicide under a similar cloud of suspicion.
West flatly denied the allegations of the two men, and the Spokeman-Review noted that both Galiher and Grant have served time on felony drug convictions. Galiher and his older brother Brett have filed a lawsuit against Spokane County for the abuse they say Hahn inflicted.
Galiher also alleges that while in prison in 2003 after being quoted in a Spokesman-Review story about Hahn’s alleged sexual abuse of young scouts—a story that cited West’s close ties with the dead man—he was beaten by guards as retribution and visited by the future mayor who warned him to keep silent.
One day after the Spokesman-Review stories broke, two more men came forward with charges of inappropriate behavior by West toward underage boys. One man, who refused to be identified in print, alleged that West ignored complaints by him as a 12-year-old scout that Hahn was molesting him at camp and instead targeted him for ridicule among the other scouts by dubbing him “fag boy.” Brad Crelia, a 19-year-old Spokane resident, alleges that while he was in high school, his parents ran a newspaper located close to West’s Senate office and that he often ran across the mayor who asked him out on a date even though he was only 15.
One of the more sensational aspects of an already spectacular story is the way in which the Spokesman-Review confirmed that West is a frequent gay.com visitor who seeks out young men with promises of employment. After learning from an 18-year-old gay man that he had met the mayor last summer for dinner and a sexual encounter based on an online meeting, the newspaper hired a forensic computer specialist, a former federal agent who has not been named, to pose as a 17-year-old on gay.com. Over a series of months beginning last November, the computer specialist, with the online name Moto-Brock, engaged in numerous conversations with the mayor, who used the name RightBiGuy (Cobras82nd, perhaps a reference to his service as a helicopter paratrooper in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, was a previous screen name.)
The Spokesman-Review report alleges that the mayor initiated sex talk with the other user he thought was a man aged 17, one year below the state’s age of consent, and that on two occasions after Moto-Brock told him he had turned 18 West “appeared to believe he was engaging in mutual online masturbation with Moto-Brock.”
West flatly denied he had online sex, but refused to review the newspaper’s transcript. He did, however, confirm that he agreed to meet a man he believed was 18 at a golf course on April 10, and also that he had offered a paid internship to that man. The mayor was observed by newspaper staff waiting futilely for the golf course assignation.
On Tuesday of this week, the newspaper reported that Ryan Oelrich, a 24-year-old gay man long active in civil rights work in Spokane, alleges that he was offered a position on the city’s Human Rights Commission, not knowing that the mayor was also Cobra82nd, a man he ran across on gay.com and found inappropriate and unappealing. Once he joined the commission, the mayor began to “hound” him, once inviting him to attend a conference with him in which the two would share a single hotel bed and later offering him $300 to swim naked with him.
Oelrich has since left the Commission, but introduced the Spokesman-Review to another young gay man, unidentified, who said he was also offered a city position as a sexual inducement. The two said they know several other young gay men who had similar experiences with the mayor. Oelrich and his friend would not say how old the other men were when West approached them.
On Monday of this week, West, who recently told one young man online that his secret gay life if uncovered could doom his hopes of becoming governor, took a leave of absence of unspecified duration, but vowed he would not resign. Computers at City Hall have been seized to examine whether any of West’s online solicitations were done with Spokane public property. Local law enforcement officials, citing potential conflicts of interest, have called on the state attorney general to appoint a special commission to study West’s potential criminal liability, either in abusing his public office or in engaging in criminal sexual conduct.
On Monday, the FBI announced it was in the early stages of a “public corruption” investigation of West.
It is unclear whether any of the allegations of engaging in sex with minors could still be prosecuted, given statute of limitations, but civil liability is still a possibility, based on federal civil rights statutes.
In his career in the Legislature, West, a formidable abortion foe, not only tried to bar gay men and lesbians from certain public occupations, he spoke out forcefully in 1985 against a gubernatorial executive order protecting gays who work for the state government, opposed efforts to have the state distribute safer-sex information and supported the state’s Defense of Marriage Act.
In recent online chats, the mayor said, “Openly gay guys are a little over the top for me. I don’t like the in-your-face attitude some guys have. And the massive political agenda either. I say live and let live. Most gay guys turn me off…I could never be into the gay scene with its politics and all. I’ve just seen too many guys decide once they are out that it becomes everyone else’s problem to deal with. I’m not into femmy guys.”
Yet, on New Year’s Eve, West, whose homosexuality seems to have been a surprisingly open secret in Washington State, told a chat buddy, “Two consenting adults must have the ability to protect their privacy or else the damn sex Nazis will be telling everyone what to do.”
Caught with at least some of the goods, West by the weekend was left complaining to the Spokesman-Review’s editor that he was “being destroyed because I am a gay man.”
Responding to that statement, Matt Foreman, the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, issued the following statement: “This man—whether he’s straight, bisexual or gay—deserves nothing but scorn. He needs to resign immediately.”