For a few hours yesterday, New York Gov. Mario M. Cuomo (D) and Democratic National Committee Chairman Paul G. Kirk Jr. appeared to be at odds over Cuomo's characterization of a private conversation the two recently had. By day's end, they cleared the air -- probably.

Here's the sequence: At a news conference in Albany, N.Y., yesterday, Cuomo was being pressed about whether he would accept a draft for the Democratic presidential nomination. According to an Associated Press account, Cuomo responded that he had called Kirk to ask whether he should rule out a draft. "Mr. Kirk said, 'Please don't make a Shermanesque,' " Cuomo said, a reference to Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, who sent a telegram to the 1884 Republican convention: "I will not accept if nominated, and will not serve if elected."

Kirk's office, reacting to the wire service account, released a curt statement: "In a conversation he had viewed as confidential, Chairman Kirk told Gov. Cuomo that since the governor has consistently said he will not be a candidate for president, a Sherman-like statement was unnecessary. There was never a discussion of a potential Cuomo draft."

The distinction is small but sensitive. As Cuomo appeared to characterize the conversation, it was about whether he should leave an opening for a candidacy. As Kirk characterized it, it was about Cuomo's behavior as a noncandidate.

But later in the day, Cuomo told The Washington Post, the two men spoke again.

"We straightened it out," Cuomo said. He reported that he told Kirk he never meant to imply Kirk had encouraged him to leave his options open. Cuomo said he had brought up the earlier conversation only because news accounts had "reported it backwards."