The Kennedy for President campaign yesterday called for the resignation of Democratic national chairman John C. White, charging White had turned over the reins of the party apparatus to the Carter reelection effort.
Paul Kirk, Kennedy's political director, said White's hiring of the former staff director of the Carter campaign and recent statements by the chairman that the Democratic contest is "resolved" make it necessary for his resignation "in the interest of basic fairness and party unity."
To say that Carter has the nomination wrapped up, Kirk said, is like "an umpire declaring after the fifth inning that the game is over and one team should start preparing for the World Series."
"As Yogi Berra has said, 'It ain't over until it's over,'" Kirk said at a press conference after a later afternoon meeting with White.
White dismissed Kirk's statement as "a fleeting attempt to get some media exposure" and said he had given it "precious little" consideration.
"No, I will not resign," he added.
What set off Kirk's call for resignation was the hiring of Les Frances, staff director of the Carter campaign, as the party's executive director and the appointment of Robert Kneefe, a longtime Carter strategist, as an unpaid consultant.
Francis, a former deputy to White House chief of staff Hamilton Jordan, will be in charge of party efforts to gear up for the fall general election campaign. Keefe, a Washington lobbyist, will advise White on Democratic convention arrangements, including the politically sensitive job of allocating seats and passes.
"I make no secret about it -- I'm a Carter partisan," Francis said in an interview yesterday. "It's a signal of the importance that we put in the fall campaign that we brought the number two man from the Carter campaign over here to run it."
He said he intends to hire more than 20 political operatives, including persons now working on the Carter and Kennedy campaigns, to work on the fall efforts in key states. Francis hopes to hire them within the next six weeks and begin "targeting" areas for special attention and voter registration drives.
Although 20 states have yet to hold primaries, Francis said the efforts will all be geared towards Carter's reelection. "The Carter campaign is so far ahead there is no way the nomination can be denied it," he added.
White has made no secret of his support of the president in the past. But the Kennedy camp regards his recent actions as going too far. Particularly disturbing was a statement White made on the Democratic race last week while campaigning for Carter in the Texas primary. "For all practical purposes, I regard it as resolved," he was quoted as saying.
"These actions and statements by the chairman of the party fly in the face of the traditional role of neutrality which a chairman is bound to uphold during the nomination process," Kirk said in a letter delivered to White. "No delegate to the Democratic convention, regardless of which candidate he or she supports, can now look to you and to the critical role you must play . . . and feel the convention is being managed with an even hand."
White, in a prepared statement, said he felt "entirely justified in planning for" the fall campaign "and not waiting until the outcome of the convention. We simply cannot afford to put off until too late the necessary preparations, strategies and fund-raising that will be necessary to defeat Ronald Reagan."
According to United Press International, Carter has won 1,204 of the delegates needed for nomination, Kennedy 675 and 43 are uncommitted.
Although the race for the Republican nomination is even more lopsided than the Democratic one, GOP chairman Bill Brock has steadfastly maintained a neutral posture and has gone ahead with preparations for the fall without regard to who will be the nominee.
In addition to the $29.4 million that the candidates of the two parties will receive from the federal treasury to conduct their fall campaigns, each party will be allowed to spend $4.6 million and raise an unlimited amount for other party building activities.