NEWS- Down 'n dirty: Fracas mars campaign event
In the last week before Election Day, it was inevitable that the heated race between Senator George Allen and his Democratic opponent, Jim Webb, would reach the boiling point.
What's surprising is what bubbled to the top when the two came to Charlottesville: Webb suggested Allen's staff "go find a Third World dictator to work for" one day, and members of Allen's staff got into a physical altercation with a man trying to confront the senator the next day.
On Monday October 30, three days after Allen's campaign set the political world tittering with a press release excerpting sexually graphic passages of Webb's novels, the Democrat held a rally at UVA's Newcomb Hall. It was clear that Webb was not taking the attack lying down.
"These mean-spirited, simple-minded, power-hungry character assassins," Webb said, "need to go find a Third World dictator to work for."
Asked to clarify that last line of his speech, Webb said only, "Use your imagination."
Allen took umbrage: "That kind of smearing and detraction is simply because my opponent and his people realize that if this is on issues and record, we will win."
The line came after Webb addressed the "flavorful manner" in which the Allen campaign had presented his writing by simply reading (for nearly two minutes) from positive reviews of his novels in mainstream publications.
"I've led a literary career and I'm proud of it," Webb said. "I've written about what I've seen. If you're an honest writer, you're going to write about the world you see, in all its beauty and all its ugliness."
Ugly is exactly what a post-rally press conference became at a George Allen event in downtown Charlottesville the next day. As Allen was leaving a meeting room at the Omni Hotel, things got physical between members of his staff and first-year UVA law student Mike Stark.
Allen was exiting the hotel's Jefferson Ballroom, preparing to answer questions from the media, when Stark approached within inches of Allen and Senator Elizabeth Dole shouting, "Did you abuse your first wife? Did you ever spit on your first wife?"
That's when Allen staffer Dan Allen (no relation to the senator) stepped between the two and began to push Stark away. When Stark continued to shout while resisting the efforts to force him out, another Allen supporter put Stark in a headlock while yet another wrestled him to the ground telling Stark, "now you're getting personal!" After subduing Stark, the staffers let him up and forced him out the front door of the Omni.
The entire incident played out in front of several photographers and television cameras.
Stark tells the Hook he plans to press charges. "There were plenty of video cameras there, and we'll have to take the evidence from there," says Stark. "The next step for me is to go to the police station today or tomorrow."
Assault? Dan Allen says he was merely trying to protect Senators Allen and Dole.
"I think that the young man was pretty menacing and aggressive screaming out inappropriate questions," says Dan Allen. "I was quite surprised when the young man slammed me against the door when we were getting Senator Allen out of the ballroom, so I was really concerned."
Stark says he never intended to harm Senator Allen, and that he simply wanted his questions answered. "My hands never came above pocket level except one time to keep from falling," he says.
"I asked if he had spit or otherwise abused his first wife because he's been attacking Webb on his treatment of women. He thinks he can slide by with sealed divorce records? I gave him a chance today to put that controversy to rest."
Stark confirms that he is the same person who confronted Senator Allen at a Staunton campaign event in August and asked if Allen had ever used "the n-word."
"I don't know who he is. He's just typical of the Webb campaign and their negativity," he said before calling Stark's questions "scurrilous lies."
George Allen seeks re-election to the Senate in a race far closer than experts anticipated.
FILE PHOTO BY WILL WALKER
Democrat Jim Webb to Allen camp: "These mean-spirited, simple-minded, power-hungry, character assassins need to go find a Third World dictator to work for."
FILE PHOTO BY BILLY HUNT