Attorney General McCormack's Irish eyes were not smiling yesterday afternoon as reporters besieged him for a statement on the growing Boston Common garage scandal. Six men had been indicted and he promised to try the case before leaving his present office, but then he asked into the phone: "You want me to say it's fine?...that justice has been served? Well, you can't gloat because six poor souls find themselves in a mess."
It wasn't what the press really sought, but McCormack has never lunged for headlines. He has been an active and competent attorney general while avoiding sensational probes.
The wear-and-tear of the past few days pointed up a paradox of his situation: his responsibilities as Attorney General cut deeply into the time and energy he can devote to his campaign, while the experience and prestige his office grant help set him off from Edward (Ted) Kennedy, his rival for the Democratic nomination.
It is hard for McCormack to contemplate Kennedy's recent comment on Meet the Press--"I'm in this fight alone, I am running as Ted Kennedy the individual"--without wincing from the irony. People at McCormack headquarters describe a poll in which half the women at a supermarket who supported Kennedy in the race gave his first name as Jack. McCormack's staff seems to regard Kennedy's presence in the race more as an insult than a challenge. They point out that he has just reached the qualifying age and his experience is limited to a short uneventful term as assistant District Attorney in Boston.
And despite the broad rivalry between the two family dynasties it is a further paradox that McCormack must run as an anti-Kennedy candidate. The picture of the President that adorns the wall of his office suggests the similarities between the two men. Ideologically McCormack is a liberal with the Kennedy blend of soaring, egalitarian rhetoric and halting political pragmatism. Other pictures on the mantle show the candidate with Harry Truman and Pope John XXIII.
On matters of civil rights and civil liberties McCormack thinks the Administration's record could stand much improvement. He has urged the President to issue the Executive Order against discrimination in public places he promised so forcefully during the 1960 campaign. He is also openly critical of Robert Kennedy's wiretapping proposals." "According to the Attorney General," McCormack complains, "he should be the only person in the United States who can make an invasion of some-one's privacy without proving to the court that it was in the public interest." McCormack then points to a bill he introduced in Massachusetts restricting his own wire-tapping privileges.
As for the pre-primary convention to be held at Springfield next week-end, McCormack is not so openly confident as his staff. "You can't be optimistic," he shrugged: "I'm not counting anyone who says he's 'leaning towards me'." He knows that it will take real political guts for a delegate to stand up and be counted against the Kennedy family. Obviously that clan will be influential for some time to come, and the extent to which the President actually backs his brother's campaign is devilishly ambiguous. The official silence from the Washington branch is little solace to the convention delegates; none can vote against Ted the Individual next week without some qualms that big brother really is watching. So the McCormack
H. Stuart Hughes, running as an independent, is beginning to cause McCormack some annoyance. Questioning the wisdom of Hughes' candidacy, McCormack said yesterday that "disarmament is such a dramatic issue that it would be raised in the campaign anyway. Then too, Hughes identifies disarmament with a political losing cause."
Yet although Hughes is already costing him campaign workers, funds and liberal support, and will cost him votes if and when he confronts a Republican in November, McCormack evinces a personal sympathy and respect for the Harvard professor that is totally absent when he discusses Ted Kennedy. "I don't go as far as Stuart Hughes," he reiterates in a tone that encompasses apology, relief and savvy, "but against a Republican we'll be pretty close to the same pole."
A tall handsome man with dark blond hair, McCormack wears the rough edges that a public school background, a stint at Annapolis, three years of active duty in the postwar Pacific and a decade of Boston politics have etched into his voice and bearing. He has a personal power and assurance that Ted Kennedy simply cannot match at this stage.
While McCormack has to fear the intangible coercive power that the Kennedy name has acquired, he is the last man in Bay State politics to mistake it for appeal. At any rate, he's too busy to be running scared.