Late last Friday night a gaggle of reporters, mostly from television stations , waited at the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia Airport for the homecoming of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine A. Ferraro.
There was some confusion as to when the chartered flight would arrive, and no one was around to field questions except taciturn Secret Service agents and other reporters.
Then a young, professional-looking woman walked briskly toward the landing area. One of the television crew members asked, ''Are you from Mondale?''
''Yes,'' she replied, and proceeded to answer questions about the arrival of the Queens congresswoman.
The campaign had truly begun. Walter F. Mondale's efficient political machine had swooped into Queens. Though Ms. Ferraro was obviously delighted to see her local staff as they watched her emerge from the cross-continent flight that night, the dominant force at the congresswoman's Forest Hills office on Monday was a stream of Mondale workers assigned to the candidate. A law firm adjoining Ms. Ferraro's district office opened up its space to these newcomers, and press questions were referred to members of the new campaign team.
''This team was put together the night Mondale called Gerry Ferraro'' to ask her to become the vice-presidential nominee, says Scott Widmeyer, who worked as a press aide for Mondale and now fields reporters' requests. ''We are not running two separate campaigns.''
But he stresses that the new support group, drawn from staff people who have been actively involved with Mr. Mondale for as long as 10 years, is an interim team. Its members will assist the new national candidate with speech writing and scheduling and give her briefings on issues until Ms. Ferraro decides which people she wants on her campaign staff.
Others, in addition to Mr. Widmeyer, who have joined the Ferraro staff, include Peter Kyros, a lawyer who has worked with Mondale; Becky McGowan, who helped schedule Mondale while he was vice-president, and speech writer Ross Brown.
Those close to the congresswoman resist the suggestion that Ms. Ferraro and her staff will be ''Mondale-ized.''
''She'll have her own staff, selected by her,'' says Anne Wexler, a former top adviser to Jimmy Carter. Ms. Wexler, who was asked by Ms. Ferraro to join the campaign team, says she'll be a senior political adviser. Although the the Mondale-Ferraro campaign will obviously be a team effort, whatever will be put together for the vice-presidential staff ''will be Geraldine Ferraro,'' she adds.
Other people being considered by the vice-presidential candidate for her campaign staff are John Sasso, who works for Gov. Michael S. Dukakis of Massachusetts, and Ranny Cooper, executive director of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy's political action committee.
Some of Ms. Ferraro's current congressional staffers will take part in the campaign; Eleanor G. Lewis, a veteran who gas worked in several congressional offices, is one. Others will continue to run the affairs of Congresswoman Ferraro's district. She hasn't relinquished her duties as a US representative, aides point out. Her constituents problems ''don't wane because she is running for vice-president,'' says one aide.
''People walk in here because their social security checks have been lost,'' says Forest Hills office manager Pat Flynn, who adds that the staff case workers are as busy as ever. There are also piles of mail ranging from congratulations to invitations to offers to help the campaign.
But life has changed for the local staff. Now they must contend with Secret Service agents and television cameras when Ms. Ferraro is in town. And there is a clear line of demarcation between the campaign staff and the congressional workers. Interviews with the press must be first cleared by the new press aides.
The Mondale people have been preparing for this campaign for several years, and sometimes their professionalism is almost visual.
During the primary season, visits to various campaign headquarters were revealing. Jesse Jackson's crews prided themselves on the grass-roots nature of their campaign, with little formal staff structure. In New York City, Gary Hart's youthful volunteers gave his headquarters the genial and sometimes hectic look of a college political club.
Mondale's office nearby was more smoothly run and looked like a corporate headquarters.