The expected nomination of former Ohio Lt. Gov. Richard F. Celeste as Peace Corps director has sparked new infighting at ACTION, the government's domestic and overseas volunteer agency.
The conflict involves the ACTION Employes Union (AEU) and the agency's deputy director, Mary King. The union says King is pushing Celeste's nomination as a political payoff to Ohio Democrats, and that she is going over the head of ACTION Director Sam Brown.
"Mary King's role in trying to dominate the decision about a new Peace Corps director, and Sam Brown's inability to deal with her can result in damage to this agency," AEU President Vic Basile said this week in a memo to Hamilton Jordan, President Carter's chief political adviser.
"The role she is playing and the insinuations that she -- not you and not Sam -- has the inside hand on this appointment only adds credence to employe perceptions that political dealings, and not Peace Corps needs, are of primary concern," Basile told Jordan.
Brown, responding to Basile's charges, said, "That's a lot of crap. That's just garbage, and I really don't have any other comment."
When asked how King could supersede Brown, Basile said: "She has a lot of political clout in the Carter administration... and Sam isn't the authoritarian that a lot of people think he is."
However, Brown is supporting Celeste's candidacy, according to ACTION sources.
The Peace Corps has been without a director since last Nov. 22, when Brown forced the resignation of Carolyn R. Payton because of "policy differences." Both former senator Dick Clark, an Iowa Democrat who lost his last election, and Peace Corps recruitment and communications assistant Larry Brown had been mentioned as likely replacements.
Clark reportedly turned down the job. Larry Brown was scuttled "because there was nothing he could do for the administration politically," Basile charged.
He said that King settled on Celeste, who also lost his last election, because she and Celeste played major roles in Carter's presidential campaign.
King and her husband, Dr. Peter Bourne, are credited with establishing Carter's early Washington connections, having campaigned here for Carter long before anyone took his presidential aspirations seriously. Both received administration jobs. But Bourne resigned last July in the wake of a controversy involving a questionable prescription that he wrote.
King was not available for comment on Basile's charges. But ACTION spokeswoman Mary Lou Batt said they were groundless.
"Anybody we select for the Peace Corps directorship would have to have serious international credentials," Batt said. Without confirming the many ACTION and administration leaks that Celeste would be nominated, she described Celeste's international credentials as "serious."
Celeste, 41, was a Rhodes scholar and served six months as a Peace Corps staffer in 1963, helping to train volunteers in Latin America. He later worked for three years in India as executive assistant to U.S. Ambassador Chester Bowles.
Celeste also has important political credentials in a state where Democrats have been complaining that Carter has given them the short stick on political appointments. He was Carter's whip on the Ohio delegation at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. His brother, Theodore Celeste, ran Carter's Ohio primary campaign. He is also a close friend of R. Sargent Shriver, the first and most notable director of the overseas volunteer agency.
Celeste said that "no definite decision" has been made by himself or by the administration about the $52,000-a-year Peace Corps job. But he said the AEU officials, who candidly admitted that they would have preferred Larry Brown or Clark for the director's post, have nothing to fear if he is selected.
"Oh, I think the union is great and I'm looking forward to working with them if I get the appointment," he said.