Erie County Democratic leaders Wednesday evening endorsed Family Court Judge Frank A. Sedita Jr. for chief judge of Buffalo City Court and District Attorney Kevin M. Dillon for re-election at a meeting marked by controversy over two designations for the Common Council.
The disagreement flared when the county Democratic Executive Committee departed from tradition and endorsed Council Members Alfred T. Coppola in the Delaware District and Archie L. Amos in the University District.
In the past, the job of endorsing candidates for district Council seats had been left to party committee members in each of the nine districts.
Mayor Griffin's supporters have a clear majority of committee members in the University District, while committee members in the Delaware District are almost evenly divided between the party organization and the Griffin forces.
Sedita, whose father was elected to three terms as mayor of Buffalo, and Dillon, whose father served as district attorney before he was elected to State Supreme Court, were endorsed unanimously.
Kevin Dillon, who also has the endorsement of the Liberal Party, was appointed district attorney about a year ago to fill a vacancy. He was elected in 1988 for a term that is now in dispute in the courts.
The county attorney and state attorney general ruled that Dillon was elected for the balance of a term that expires Dec. 31 and that the office must be filled in the 1989 election for a full, four-year term. The state Board of Elections said Dillon's election last year was for a four-year term.
"We have to play it safe and circulate our petitions," said Dillon who was at Ellicott Square to accept the endorsement. Dillon said he did not expect a final decision in the lawsuit until after July 13, the deadline for filing primary petitions.
The motion to endorse Coppola and Amos passed by a vote of 19-8, according to Democratic County Chairman Vincent J. Sorrentino, who presided at the closed meeting in Ellicott Square.
Council Member at-large Rosemarie LoTempio, a Griffin ally and member of the executive committee, called the action a "big mistake," claiming it "ignored duly elected committee members in the districts."
Mrs. LoTempio said her chief complaint was that Democratic Headquarters had declined to call a meeting of committee members in the Delaware District.
She said University District committee members would meet this evening to make an endorsement and predicted the designation would go to Amos.
Amos has voted in the Council with the new majority, which has cooperated on many issues with the Griffin administration.
Daniel J. Ryan, a Republican who lost to Coppola by 113 votes two years ago and who had sought the Democratic endorsement for the Delaware District Council seat this year, called the executive committee action "bossism at its worst."
"It's obvious I would have been endorsed had the committee members been allowed to vote," said Ryan.
Sorrentino defended the action of the Executive Committee, which he said has the final authority to make and ratify endorsements.
He said no meeting had been called in the Delaware District because the request came in late and was put before the Executive Committee, which rejected it.
Sorrentino said the Executive Committee also endorsed three Democratic county legislators for re-election. They are G. Steven Pigeon of West Seneca, 9th District; Charles M. Swanick of Kenmore, 10th District, and Leonard R. Lenihan of the Town of Tonawanda, the majority leader, 11th District. However, Sorrentino said district meetings are scheduled to be held in each of the districts.
In addition, Sorrentino said the Executive Committee ratified endorsements of 11 county legislative and seven district Council candidates previously made by committee members in the respective districts.
Democrats also announced these endorsements, all of which were made on the district level before Tuesday's executive committee meeting:
John J. Fiorella of Buffalo to run against County Legislator Joan K. Bozer, R-Buffalo, in the Fourth District. Fiorella, who unsuccessfully challenged Mrs. Bozer in 1987, is a graduate of Princeton University and an administrative aide to the County Legislature. He also has the support of the Conservative Party.
County Legislator Michael A. Fitzpatrick, D-Buffalo, for re-election to a seventh, two-year term in the Second District.
South Council Member Brian M. Higgins for re-election to a second, two-year term.
Mrs. Bozer, who will be running for a seventh term in a district that is 2 1/2 to 1 Democratic in enrollment, also will have the backing of the Republican Party.