Kit Dobelle, chief of protocol for the State Department and wife of President Carter's campaign chairman, has been named director of Rosalynn Carter's East Wing Staff, the White House announced. Rosalynn Carter made known the existence of the newly created position, as well as the name of its first occupant, at a meeting of her 18-member staff yesterday morning.
The new job will make Dobelle a senior member of the White House staff and place her above Mrs. Carter's press secretary, Mary Hoyt, a move that triggered the inevitable speculation over the political machinations behind the maneuver.
"It's not that important a role for Kit to leave her job at State unless the politics involved were felt to be crucial," one knowledgeable East Wing observer commented. "Maybe Hamilton and the senior staffers wanted someone over there they could trust and work with, if Rosalynn is going to be a major asset in the campaign. Up until now they've pretty much left the East Wing alone."
Nevertheless, tension between the East and West wings is not novel in the Carter administration. A former White House staffer a year ago summed up the situation: "The relationship between Rosalynn's staff and Jimmy's staff is Hate. Hate. Kill. Kill."
Hoyt was specifically pointed out in this analysis as a source of dissatisfaction to the West Wing. A former press aide to both Eleanor McGovern and Jane Muskie, and a veteran of Washington's public relations and journalistic worlds, Hoyt was described by the same source as "an uptown sophisticated lady. The fellows are put off by this. She looks fixed up. These guys are not used to that. It's sad because it always seemed to me that Mary wanted Jody's good will and advice."
Kit Dobelle became protocol chief in May 1978 after her husband, Evan, left the job to lead the Democratic Party fund-raising efforts. He was later named national chairman of the Carter-Mondale committee.
Dobelle refused to speculate yesterday about what her new responsibilities would be, and about the reasons for the creation of the job. "I really would only think in terms of the future," she said in a telephone interview. "I always like to approach things positively."
Dobelle said she would probably move to the East Wing early next month and emphasized that she would be working closely with senior staff members of both the president and vice president.
Hoyt had lunch with her new bossat the Fairfax Hotel before taking off on a West Coast vacation. She left behind a press release stating it had become increasingly difficult for her to "focus solely on the heavy demands from the press for coverage of Mrs. Carter" and that she "looked forward to spending more time as spokesperson for Mrs. Carter and helping her to develop themes for speaking engagements and for her public and political activities."
Several East Wing observers said they had "real vibrations from the West Wing" that a change was imminent in Mrs. Carter's staff. "Contrary to the myth that the West Wing makes the East Wing's decision, it's more accurate that they've left it alone," one observer said. "With the campaign coming up this isn't the time to be leaving anyone alone."
The turn of events that brings Dobelle to the East Wing is only one more improbable step in the gypsy-like journey the Dobelles have taken through the political job market. Dobelle's husband Evan was the Republican mayor of Pittsfield, Mass., before he was appointed to the State Commission of Environmental Management, switched political parties and found his faith in Jimmy Carter. When Evan Dobelle took over as treasurer of the Democratic National committee, Kit Dobelle took official possession of the job she had been helping her husband with unofficially since his appointment as protocol chief.
"She's a superlovely person," said one Dobelle admirer. "I just hope she survives."