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DOT couple takes center stage at GOP dinner

Evans apologizers to supporters for stepping down early

POSTED: April 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.
SCOTT ROGERS The Times/

Mike Evans and Gena Abraham enter the Black Bear Theater as guests at a Republican 9th District party Friday night in Cleveland. Evans, the former chairman of the Georgia Department of Transportation board, resigned Thursday after admitting he and Abraham wished to pursue a romantic relationship.

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SAUTEE -- It wasn't your typical Friday night date.

In a little more than 24 hours, former Georgia Department of Transportation Chairman Mike Evans and Commissioner Gena Abraham became one of the state's most talked about couples.

Word quickly spread in the Black Bear Theater that Evans, who had resigned a day earlier following a public disclosure of his relationship with Abraham, was coming to apologize at a dinner for 9th District Republicans.

When the couple walked in after most of the guests had been seated, heads quickly turned to get a glimpse of them.

Evans slapped a few backs, shook hands and exchanged hugs with a few as he made his way down the narrow aisle in a open-collared shirt. Abraham, wearing a casual print dress and sandals, followed closely behind, smiling and shaking hands with a few.

Seated at a front row of tables, the presence of the couple, sitting just two seats down from U.S. Rep. Nathan Deal and his wife, Sandra, was an attention-getter.

After dinner and the introduction of elected officials, Evans took the stage and spoke without prepared remarks.

"There are a lot of friends in this room. A lot of good friends," Evans said. "I owe you an apology. Y'all spent a lot of effort getting me re-elected two or three months ago and me not finishing out my term is disappointing to some, and I apologize."

From there, Evans launched into a brief, but rambling speech that repeated many of the same themes he had mentioned at his resignation.

He first referred to Abraham as "a certain person," then later introduced her to the crowd of 225 people.
"I guess you know who I date or am dating now," Evans said. "I will introduce you to my date, Gena Abraham."

Abraham stood at her seat, turning slightly to the crowd and giving a small wave. The crowd acknowledge her with a polite, but not sustained applause. While Evans spoke, she looked directly at him and smiled most of the time.

Evans even tried to make light of the situation. "One thing she has done is revamp the Web site," he said. "You can go on there at GDOT ... matchmaker dot-com, if you're looking for a date."

When Evans finished his remarks, he drew brief applause and about a dozen people tried to induce a standing ovation that never materialized.

The couple have their supporters, including Sen. Jeff Mullis, R-Chickamauga, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

"This is a recent relationship between two adult, single people," Mullis said. "Mike Evans has done the honorable thing and resigned. I think it (talk about the relationship) should be over. I hope and pray that she (Abraham) continues on. I have asked her to stay on and many other people are supporting that."

A number of powerful organizations, including the Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia have weighed in with their support of Abraham. The 39-year-old engineer holds a doctorate from Georgia Tech and is the first woman in state history to hold the post.

Abraham was an assistant professor in Georgia Tech's School of Civil and Environmental Engineering when Gov. Sonny Perdue named her executive secretary and construction director of the Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission in 2003 and then placed her in charge of all functions of the State Property Office in 2006.

In October 2007, Abraham was selected by the State Transportation Board to head the DOT overseeing nearly 6,000 employees and a $2.1 billion operating budget. She had been supported by Perdue and was elected by 7-6 vote over State Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, the chairman of the House Transportation Committee.

Evans, 47, was a four-term state representative from Forsyth County, where he is now a developer. He was first elected to the DOT board in 2003 and won a tumultuous election on Feb. 1 over former Hall County state Rep. Stacey Reece.



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