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Erie County's 7,400-member Independence Party is of two minds in the hotly contested county executive race. Both sides spoke up Tuesday with competing endorsements for the Sept. 14 Independence Party primary.

First to voice a preference was Rochester millionaire B. Thomas Golisano, the party's founder and two-time gubernatorial candidate. He gave his nod to Democratic County Executive Dennis Gorski.

Shortly after Golisano's announcement, a faction of the Independence Party in Erie County showed its independence by holding a news conference and throwing its support to one of the Republican candidates, City Comptroller Joel Giambra.

In backing Gorski, Golisano said, "He doesn't just talk about things which concern Independence Party members -- he's already put our platform into action. Dennis Gorski is the true independent. The choice for Erie County voters could not be more clear."

Golisano said no county executive in the state can match Gorski's record for fiscal management and debt reduction.

Golisano's support for Gorski is countered by a faction of the local party leadership that supports Giambra. Giambra has the backing of the Erie County Republican Committee, but faces a primary challenge from Jeff Baran.

Early in the day, Giambra disclosed that he would be endorsed by members of the state and county Independence Party, with Ricky Donovan, Independence Party candidate for Council member at large, as spokesman.

That was news to Joseph B. Horan, county chairman of the Independence Party, who said he knew about Golisano's plans but not about the competing news conference to support Giambra.

"I'm not familiar with that one at all," Horan said.

Horan said that the party decided to let members choose between the two candidates, each with the support of a faction, and that both names will appear on Independence lines in the primary.

"I think we have two good candidates, Dennis and Joel," Horan said. "I felt it would be better to allow our members to come out in a primary. I did not believe I should be a dictator. I should be a shepherd."

Golisano was the Independence Party candidate for governor in 1994 and 1998.

Although the Independence Party leaders are divided over the endorsement, they denied there is a split and said the party is only suffering from growing pains.

Jeannine Baran, chairman of the party's city committee, said the group supporting Giambra also supported the candidacy of Kevin Helfer, University District Council member and a Republican, for comptroller to succeed Giambra. That endorsement was overturned by party leaders at the state level, who instead endorsed State Sen. Anthony Nanula for the comptroller post.

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