Because of a transmission error, the name of a Chicago ward committeeman was misspelled in an article yesterday about the Cook County struggle for Democratic delegates to the presidential nominating convention. The correct spelling is P.J. Cullerton.
Key Chicago and Cook County Democrats have retreated from the party's early commitment to the presidential candidacy of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, but Mayor Jane Byrne is trying to stem the tide that could aid significantly the renomination campaign of President Carter.
Cook County Democratic Pary Chairman George W. Dunne spent much of last week in private sessions with committeemen, releasing them from their responsibilities for fielding slates of Kennedy delegates for the March 18 Illinois primary, until Byrne heard of the meeting.
Moving to shore up the Massachusetts senator's position, Byrne telephoned party leaders today to insist they stick with him. Several party figures were skeptical about whether Byrne could reverse the drift.
A retreat from the Cook County party's endorsement of Kennedy for the Democratic presidential nomination could have national ramifications. Stephen Smith, Kennedy's campaign chief, said Dec. 11 at a Washington breakfast with reporters that the senator must win the Illinois primary if he is to beat Carter.
Byrne said Dunne's release of committeemen was "a mistake in communication." She said she had told him that candidates from one of the county's 12 congressional districts could run uncommitted but that Dunne thought she meant party regulars should field neutral slates.
One Chicago ward committeeman caught in the switches, former county assessor T. J. Collerton, said today he was uncertain about what to do. Collerton oversaw the selection Thursday of uncommitted slates in the northwest side's 11th Congressional District.
"Kennedy can't win in Illinois today," said Collerton, a party elder who has long been associated with the Kennedy family. "Teddy is no Jack or Bobby," said Collerton, who only three months ago was a leader in the effort to draw local Democratic support away from Carter and to Kennedy.
"We may have to change the slate, but I don't know if we can get the same fellows to run," Collerton said. Asked why his party committee decided to run seven uncommitted delegates, Collerton said of Kennedy, "He's a little dull in the neighborhood."
Alderman Roman Pucinski, a former congressman and one of the candidates on Collerton's uncommitted slate, said, "There is a lot of turmoil," and would not predict the outcome. Pucinski said Kennedy is extremely unpopular in his northwest side Roman Catholic ethnic ward, partly because of his positions in favor of abortion rights and school desegregation.
Another major ward committeeman close to Byrne is doubtful the regulars could field Kennedy committee slates throughout the city. "It's a question of politics," the committeeman said. "We have a well-organized district, but I doubt if we could carry him. Do we run with Kennedy or do we run to win?"
Democratic regulars in at least one suburban congressional district are determined to run uncommitted slates, regardless of Byrne. State Rep. Harold Yourell of Oak Lawn said the 4th Congressional District committee which he chairs will field a neutral slate. "I had a meeting of my organization in November and a straw vote went 250 for Carter and three for Kennedy."
Illinois election law and party rules require a candidate for delegate to the Democratic National Convention to list his presidential preference on the ballot or put the words "uncommitted" after his name.
Seventy-eight of the 152 Illinois delegates elected by congressional district will be from Chicago and its Cook County suburbs. Another 27 will be selected later at a state party convention.
When interviewed Friday about reports he was releasing committeemen from the party's commitment to run Kennedy slates, Dunne estimated that several districts would do so. Dunne said then he could assure only that two of the country's 12 congressional district committees would run Kennedy slates.
Byrne said today, "George made a mistake. He told me last week that only one man wanted to run uncommitted. He thought I said that everybody could do that. All but about three will go uncommitted. I am making the telephone calls now."
Byrne said she was "almost in shock" when she heard Dunne was releasing committeemen. The Chicago mayor drew national attention the weekend of Oct. 27 when she endorsed Kennedy, deserting Carter whom she had publicly supported only 11 days previously.
"There was a mistake," said Dunne who refused to elaborate. "Its just a human thing that can happen."
Caught by surprise, Girard Dougherty, Kennedy's Illinois campaign manager, said he would be amazed if Cook County party regulars remained uncommitted. "It would stupefy me," Dougherty said.
If the drift from Kennedy continues, the senator's campaign would be forced to run its own slates against the Cook County uncommitted slates, Dougherty said.
Robert Torricelli, Carter's Illinois campaign director, saw the week's developments as a breakthrough. The president, who has been wooing party regulars across the state, has recently won backing from two top Democratic state officials and two key Chicago ward committeemen.
Torricelli noted that the break came on the day that Democratic county chairmen in Rep. Paul Simon's 24th Congressional District in downstate Illinois decided to field a slate committed to Carter. Simon is a key figure in the Illinois Kennedy campaign.