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Tales of two recalls

Spokane Mayor Jim West probablywould like to swap places with David Young right about now.

Young has been the target of a planned recall, but yesterday the Canyon County residents who were behind it acknowledged they were falling short, failed to get the required number of petition signatures by their November 30 deadline, and settled for saying that, well, at least they got a discussion of Young’s record out there. But there were less labor-intensive ways to do that.

The collapse of that effort comes as no surprise. Young has been central to the occasional legal storm – a substantial one now in federal court finds the survivors of a murder victim are suing Young for his office’s role in the release from jail of a violent man later convicted of killing his ex-wife. That case was a key point in the recall effort.

Young has acknowledged it wasn’t perfectly handled, but also pointed out that the criminal justice system is a complicated thing. he could also point out that errors could be found through hindsight in any prosecutor’s office (or most any other kind of office, for that matter).

The recall proponents had framed their gripe with Young as a criticism of the way he managed the office – of how well it was being run. That issue is legitimate for a regular election (we make no assessment here whether their contentions are valid), but to recall an official, you should need much more. For purposes of a recall, you should ask such questions as: Is the offense so great that the person cannot be trusted with the office even another week? Is the problem so great that this person can no longer do the job – or is the damage to the community so great it just cant be allowed to continue through the rest of the term? The Young recallers obviously came nowhere near that kind of standard.

A day’s drive to the north puts that in perspective. There, recall activists did put Spokane Mayor West on a recall election ballot, and voters are finishing their balloting now; the deadline, and the counting, occurs on Tuesday. Almost certainly, West will be recalled.

The Spokesman-Review reports today that a new opinion survey shows West has gained a little ground from previous polls; evidently, the previously undecided are breaking mostly for West. (There weren’t many undecideds, and the pro-recallers still lead 58% to 38%.) You can understand that. There’s been a kind of piling on (the Spokesman has run more than 150 stories on the West scandal) and West seems a tragic figure, much more than a doer of bad deeds. On one level, his offenses are not massive. While his case has been a spectacle because of the outing of a conservative Republican as gay or bisexual, his offenses – which at most concern the use of a city computer and appointment of people with whom he was socially involved – are not especially horrific.

But there is another consideration. West was elected in 2003, and if not recalled (he has made abundantly clear he will not resign) he will stay in office into early 2008. As long as he is mayor, West and the city cannot escape the cloud over them both. However many good things West has done (and in many respects he has been a good mayor) or would do, he will be forever handicapped by the scandal. The city will not really have a mayor who can do what a mayor needs to do – which includes representing the city in a positive light. In fundamental ways, however unfair it may be, West realistically can’t do the job any more. And so the election: Can Spokane do with only a half-mayor more the next two-plus years?

It probably can’t, not easily. And so while the late surge of sympathy for the embattled mayor is understandable, so too will be the vote on Tuesday ousting him from office.

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One Comment

  1. Sharon Ullman Sharon Ullman December 1, 2005

    I have to vigorously disagree with your take on what consitutes (or in this case supposedly does not constitute) a serious enough offense to be recalled from public office. In the case of Canyon County Prosecutor Dave Young, his bad judgement, mismanagement, etc. resulted in the unnecessary death – DEATH – of a young mother. How much more egregious an offense does one need to commit in order for you to determine that the person running the show needs to go – now?!

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