Allred's behavior revolted colleagues

STAFF WRITERMay 21, 2009 

— Rep. Cary Allred smelled of alcohol during a House session three weeks ago when he gave what one fellow Republican described as a "gruesome bear hug" to a teenage page working in the House chamber, several state lawmakers said in a report released Wednesday.

Many of the lawmakers said that Allred's extended hug was inappropriate, with one calling it the closest thing she had seen to sexual battery. Another House member said it was the most unsettling thing he had seen in his 11 years in the legislature. Several lawmakers said the 17-year-old girl seemed uncomfortable or embarrassed.

In the report, Rep. Thom Tillis, the House Republican whip, said he did not see the hug but smelled a strong odor of alcohol on Allred, who had been told by a fellow lawmaker to settle down. According to Tillis, Allred responded: "I am 62 years old, and I'm worth $2 million. People ought to show me respect."

Allred has defended his behavior and criticized the public release of the documents. He has called the allegations a political "witch hunt." But many of the eyewitness accounts were from his fellow Republicans who sit nearby in the chamber.

The accounts contrast sharply with Allred's explanation of his behavior. He says he had one cocktail before leaving for Raleigh and gave a grandfatherly hug to the girl, a neighbor and family friend. Allred did not attend the House session Wednesday. Reached at home, he said that the nine witnesses who described a prolonged hug and kiss were wrong or had misperceived the event. Some members said Allred kissed her on the cheek. Others said the kiss was on the mouth. Some said they saw only a hug.

'Like my granddaughter'

"The eyewitnesses are looking through at the situation through dark-colored glasses with an evil mind," Allred said. "They're not looking at it through rose-colored glasses. They should have, because the page lives across the road from me and she's like my granddaughter."

Allred had sponsored the girl in the page program, in which teenagers spend a week at the legislature, passing out papers, taking attendance or helping lawmakers with various tasks.

"I regret that I showed her that much pride and affection, but I was really proud of her," Allred said. "If I had done it in private, what would someone say then? I wanted everybody on the House floor to know I was proud of her."

The girl's mother has said she is not concerned about the incident and that it has been overdramatized.

The report from the House sergeant at arms will now be sent to the legislative ethics commission. The commission will determine what, if anything, to do to Allred. Possibilities include no action, referral to another committee, reprimand or expulsion.

The report, which consisted of recollections by legislators and staffers who witnessed the events, makes no recommendations.

The document focuses mostly on Allred's behavior that night on the House floor. It includes only brief mentions of the traffic stop earlier in which Allred was stopped by a state trooper for driving 102 mph on Interstate 40.

The trooper let Allred go with a warning after Allred told him he was a member of the House of Representatives.

Allred described those events to his seatmate, Rep. Fred Steen, a Landis Republican. The report also includes a copy of the speeding citation issued to Allred after news reports surfaced about the traffic stop.

Allred 'like a bomb'

Rep. Daniel McComas, a Wilmington Republican, told the House investigator that Allred "was like a bomb that could explode any time."

On the night in question, April 27, Allred clashed sharply with Speaker Joe Hackney over a lottery bill. Hackney gaveled Allred down.

"I noticed that he was somewhat louder and less focused than usual," said Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican and the House minority leader. Stam later saw what he described as "a long hug with a page."

Stam said he spoke to Allred and smelled alcohol on his breath. Allred said he had consumed one "chelada," a mixture of beer, tomato juice and clam juice.

Rep. Mitchell Setzer was detailed in his account of the hug.

"Representative Allred had a female House Page in what seemed to be a never-ending embrace that resembled a gruesome bear hug," wrote Setzer, a Catawba Republican. "When the embrace finally broke, Representative Allred stepped back for a moment and then he stepped forward and began this hugging procedure again. I have never witnessed anything as unsettling as this in the eleven years that I have been a member of the General Assembly."

A full-body hug

Rep. Wil Neumann, a Belmont Republican, wrote that Allred gave the page a "full-body hug."

"The 'bear hug' was first, inappropriate on the House floor between a member and a 17-year-old Page of the opposite sex, and second, the duration of the hug was excessive," Neumann wrote.

"The young page's face was extremely red," wrote Rep. Pearl Burris-Floyd, a Dallas Republican.

Rep. Julia Howard, a Mocksville Republican, told the House page supervisor that the incident "was the closest thing she ... had ever seen to sexual battery."

Allred said on Wednesday that he is considering changing his party registration to "unaffiliated."

"If this is what they think of me, then I don't know how I can work with these people," Allred said.

Rep. Curtis Blackwood, a Matthews Republican, wrote a statement in Allred's defense. Blackwood said he saw Allred holding the page by the shoulders before giving her a peck on the cheek.

"While some may say this showed a lack of judgment, I saw nothing that was inappropriate in Rep. Allred's actions," Blackwood wrote.

ben.niolet@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4521

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