WASHINGTON -- Sen. Patty Murray told Sen. Barbara Boxer nearly three years ago that Sen. Strom Thurmond tried to fondle her on a Capitol elevator, and Boxer urged her to make it public, Boxer's spokesman said Thursday.

Thurmond, the 93-year-old South Carolina Republican just re-elected to his eighth term, denied the charge and Murray, D-Wash., doesn't want to talk about it, her spokesman said Thursday.

"This is an incident that happened a long time ago," Murray press secretary Rex Carney said from Seattle.

"Sen. Murray dealt with it immediately and handled it in a way she felt was appropriate and since then she has not talked about it and doesn't intend to."

Carney said Murray "knows what sexual harassment is and that was not sexual harassment. If she ever was a victim of sexual harassment, she would have done something about it."

Thurmond said in a statement released by his office Thursday that he had not engaged in any inappropriate behavior. He indicated he was only helping Murray onto the elevator. "Throughout my life, I have made an effort to show gentlemanly courtesies towards women: That includes assisting them through doors, into vehicles and yes onto elevators. That is the same courtesy I believe I was showing Senator Murray," he said.

Chris Cimko, Thurmond's press secretary, said Thurmond remembered he "grabbed her by the arm."

"I don't know whether he took her by the elbow or the upper arm," she said. She said Thurmond later apologized to Murray in the event there was any misunderstanding.

David Sandretti, Boxer's communications director, said Murray related the incident to Boxer as it is described in an upcoming book.

The book, "Women On the Hill" by former Newsweek reporter Clara Bingham, says that when Murray got onto an elevator with an elevator operator and Thurmond in early 1994, Thurmond put his arm around Murray, tried to fondle her breast and said, "Are you married little lady?"

Sandretti said Murray told Boxer, D-Calif., about it "shortly after the encounter."

"At the time Senator Murray came to Senator Boxer on the floor and told her about it," he said.

"Senator Boxer suggested that Senator Murray go public with the incident. Senator Murray said she would handle it privately and she did," he said.

Cimko said Murray's aides contacted Thurmond's office after the incident in early 1994 after Murray first entered the Senate.

"Senator Thurmond recalls the incident because he became aware of her concern shortly after it. He made it very clear he would like to meet with her and her chief of staff," Cimko said.

But Murray "declined and said that was not necessary," she said.

"He sought her out and said he hoped she did not misconstrue when he took her arm. He's 93 years old. His mama taught him to be a gentleman," she said.

"A lot has been written about the Thurmond legendary grip. If you watch him on C-Span on the Senate floor you'll see him grab people by the arm and say, How are you doing?' "

What about the comment, "Are you married, little lady?"

"That is vintage Strom Thurmond: You sure are pretty, are you married, you have child-

ren?' " Cimko said. "This was more of a getting-to-know-you exercise."