Confrontation colors political meeting

Published 1:25 am Thursday, October 28, 2010

Staff Writer

The Washington Police Department was called to the Beaufort County Democratic Party’s election-year headquarters Wednesday afternoon following a reported confrontation between two men.
Volunteers at the headquarters said the confrontation involved a supporter of U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, D-N.C., of Wilson and a supporter of Butterfield’s Republican opponent, Ashley Woolard of Washington.
The Woolard supporter was wearing a holstered gun at the time, the volunteers related.
No one was arrested at the scene, but two police officers were on hand — evidently for security reasons — when Butterfield arrived.
The two men who acknowledged involvement in the incident were questioned by police at the scene.
After the event, the congressman said his campaign had been made aware of the incident prior to his arrival, and that he and his campaign staff had “a very confidential telephone call” with local police.
“And they assured me if I chose to come they would be here and that there would be no disturbance, and they fulfilled their promise,” Butterfield said. “The only thing that we saw was citizens exercising their First Amendment rights.”
Butterfield agreed this type of occurrence was a first for him as an elected official, but he added he knew little about the incident.
“I am a federal official,” Butterfield told the Washington Daily News. “We are always, as members of Congress, as federal officials — we always have to be alert to potential threats.”
Butterfield added he hadn’t felt threatened or considered canceling his campaign appearance, the 20th on a 20-city tour that ended Wednesday.
“I wanted to get the assurance from the Washington Police Department that they would certainly be here and they would provide the security, and they did,” he said.
Carl Albright, a Butterfield supporter, alleged he was shoved by the Woolard supporter outside headquarters, before Butterfield arrived for the campaign event.
Albright indicated he became upset when he saw the Woolard supporter, later identified as campaign volunteer Larry Herwig, with a handgun strapped to his hip.
“You look like a real (expletive deleted) in that,” Albright said he told Herwig.
He claimed Herwig pushed him six to seven times.
“He just kept bumping into me,” Albright said.
Herwig, a Marine veteran, disputed that account, saying Albright called him an “(expletive deleted) and a baby killer.”
After talking with a police officer, Herwig voluntarily removed his gun, which he said was licensed to him, and placed it in his truck.
“The 2nd Amendment says I have a right to carry it,” he pointed out.
Herwig alleged Albright approached him, and he denied he pushed anyone.
“I was standing my ground on the sidewalk,” he commented.
There was no apparent hostility between the opposing groups gathered outside the headquarters before Butterfield arrived.
Some Republicans stood on the opposite side of Market Street with anti-Butterfield signs, exchanging good-natured banter with Democrats across the way.
When the Butterfield campaign’s recreational vehicle pulled up, the Woolard crowd started singing “God Bless America,” while the Democrats erupted in cheers for their candidate.
“Democracy in progress!” Herwig yelled from across the street.
“Yes!” a number of Democrats yelled back.
“Come on inside,” called Ed Booth, a Democratic Beaufort County commissioner who’s seeking re-election this year.
Reached by telephone after the event, Woolard said Herwig has been working with his campaign since March. The candidate said he hadn’t heard about the incident outside Democratic headquarters.
“If there was a confrontation, I can guarantee you it wasn’t Larry,” Woolard said.
Asked whether he feared politically motivated violence in this tense election year, Woolard replied by saying he had been threatened to his face and by telephone.
“We’ve all had threatening statements made to us, I won’t deny that,” he said. “But listen, it’s not about me, it’s about standing up for what you feel is right and getting out there and sending your message to folks.”
He acknowledged there is “extremism” on both ends of the political spectrum, but added that’s not what his message is about.
“Any threats that have been made to me personally, it doesn’t bother me,” Woolard stated. “People get pretty excited at election time. People are very passionate, and I want people passionate. I want people taking part in the process, regardless of whether they’re voting for me or voting for Butterfield.”