A press dinner for Virginia Lt. Gov. Charles S. Robb was hastily moved to a second location here today after some women reporters said they would boycott the event because it had been scheduled in an all-male private club.
"Oh, why couldn't this have happened when it was Marshall's turn to speak," complained Robb aide, Laurie Naismith, referring to Attorney General Marshall Coleman, the man expected to face Robb in a gubernatorial contest in 1980.
Naismith said her boss had been "caught in the middle" when he accepted an invitation to a "background" dinner from the Virginia Capitol Correspondents Association, only to learn later that the Bull & Bear Club where it was to have been held bars women from membership.
Robb, who lives in McLean, and his aides weren't the only ones surprised to discover the club's policy.
"It bothers me that I didn't know about this," said Karen Rypka, a reporter for Arundel Newspapers who serves as the association's secretary. Rypka had attended a similar dinner for Gov. John N. Dalton at the Bull & Bear last month.
"I wouldn't have gone to the other thing if I had known," said Rypka, who joined other women reporters in pressuring the association's president, George Wilbur of the Associated Press, to reschedule the dinner in a more acceptable location.
Robb, who said his "consciousness has been raised" by the experience, was relieved when the dinner was moved to a French restaurant. But he stopped short of saying he would have refused to attend the event at the old location, noting that "a public official has to address meetings and groups where you can find them."
The Capitol press corps, meanwhile, gathered in the press room for a spirited debate of the controversy that rivaled anything they have seen on the floor of the General Assembly.
UPI's Ed Roby suggested changing the club's name to the Cow & Bear, while Mel Carrico, a statehouse fixture who covers politics for the Roanoke Times & World-News, railed against "the knee-jerk liberals" who he said were "trying to dictate policy to a private club."
Del. Elise B. Heinz (D-Arlington) said she refuses to attend legislative functions at the Bull & Bear since "the 'club' considers me unacceptable as a potential 'member.'"
Del. Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax) said women legislators had successfully opened the Downtown Club to women a few years ago. "Maybe it's time for the nine of us here to send in our applications to the Bull & Bear," she said.
The club's manager, Martin Lawlor, hung up on a reporter who tried to question him about its policies.