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Frontline: the hidden life of Spokane Mayor Jim West

Before there was Mark Foley and his abuse of power to prey on pages for his sexual needs, there was the double life of anti-gay Jim West, Spokane’s Republican mayor. There are plenty of Blend posts about the late mayor, who was voted out of office in a landslide in the city’s first-ever recall election.

PBS has a Frontline documentary, A Hidden Life, that premieres on Tuesday at 9pm, covers the whole sordid mess.

On May 5, 2005, the residents of Spokane, Washington, awoke to one of the strangest headlines in the town’s history: “West Tied to Sex Abuse in ’70s, Using Office to Lure Young Men.” The popular, socially conservative Republican mayor of Spokane, Jim West, had been outed by the town’s newspaper The Spokesman-Review. The paper told the sordid story of a man with two lives: in public, he had once sponsored legislation forbidding gays from teaching in public schools, while in private, the paper alleged, he was trawling for young men online, using the trappings of his office to lure them into sexual relationships. But as bizarre as the revelations were, so too were the newspaper’s methods. For months, a middle-aged “forensic computer specialist” had posed as an 18-year-old boy online, engaging the mayor in a relationship that became more and more intimate, ultimately exploding on the front page of the newspaper. In a media climate where sexual scandals dominate the headlines, FRONTLINE producers Rachel Dretzin and Barak Goodman investigate the complex relationship between politics, sexuality, fear, and judgment in one all-American town.

On the taxpayers’ dime (and town computers), West cruised online, preying on young men, including making a pass at a state senator’s 18-year-old son (“I want to do to your son what no mother would want to know”). His online chats hit the news. His pickup lines, in this case, were so lame that he struck out. This victim was Ryan Oelrich, one of West’s pursuits, who also received a job from the Spokane mayor, according to The Spokesman-Review.

Ryan Oelrich, 24, was appointed to the Spokane Human Rights Commission by West, and later complained the mayor harassed him for sex.

In a detailed timeline released Thursday to the newspaper, Oelrich said he was first contacted by RightBi-Guy in August or September of 2003 on and later by Cobra82nd, who said he’d changed screen names. Both were computer names used by West. Oelrich was a Gonzaga University student at the time.

After learning he was corresponding with West, Oelrich said the mayor promised to help him find a job, offered him a City Hall internship, and continued to pressure him for sex.

…West dropped by Oelrich’s home, offered him $300 cash to swim naked with him and continued to press him for dates, Oelrich said

Oelrich used the online names “GonzagaRy” and “HappyCollegeGuy” in the conversations.

During Memorial Day weekend in 2004, Cobra82nd said he’d been working on his house.

"Now I'm looking for some cuddle bunny to nuggle with. You game?" Cobra82nd asked.

"You will never score with me," HappyCollegeGuy replied.

Later in the same conversation, Cobra82nd said he was getting a new Lexus convertible.

Cobra82nd: "You think? Maybe I'll have to give you a ride? Maybe give you a lil more."

Cobra82nd said he was buying the car because of a "midlife crisis."

"Is it over?" asked HappyCollegeGuy.

"No, just starting.haha.need a sports car and a new mistress you interested in being the latter?"

HappyCollegeGuy: "hmm, no. but best of luck anyway."

West was also accused of molesting underage boys, which was never confirmed (FBI cleared him of the charges), but he admitted to an abuse of his office, offering rewards and benefits and even jobs in return for sex.

The PBS web site will have extended interviews with West (who died of cancer in July), as well as copies of his IM sessions and emails.

Hat tip, Spot4Me.

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