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Council members divided on how to fill vacant seat

A dispute over how the Common Council should proceed in filling the vacant Delaware District seat has turned a normally peaceful process into a political tug-of-war.

Some lawmakers want to break from a tradition that has seen the Council appoint the choice of political party leaders. City Hall veterans can only remember one instance in the past 20 years when the Council rejected the party's nominee.

Ever since Delaware Council Member Marc A. Coppola won a special election to the State Senate last week, some lawmakers have called for changes that would make the appointment process more accessible to people who aren't tied to political parties. But lawmakers are divided on how to proceed, and Majority Leader Dominic J. Bonifacio Jr. said it's not clear how the dispute will play out.

"We're still negotiating how we're going to handle it," he said.

Erie County Democratic Party Chairman Leonard R. Lenihan has said Delaware District committee members will support Michael J. LoCurto, an aide to State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, to fill the seat.

But two other candidates have sent resumes to the Council asking to be considered.

The granddaughter of former Council Majority Leader Rosemarie LoTempio is seeking the appointment. The younger Rosemarie LoTempio cited her 11 years as a legislative assistant.

Pedro Velez-Lopez, who has been active in numerous Hispanic groups, also is seeking the appointment. His resume indicates that he is a former president of the Erie County Young Democrats. In 1997, Velez-Lopez ran unsuccessfully for the Erie County Legislature as a Republican.

South Council Member Michael A. Kearns led the initial charge to revamp the appointment process, putting less emphasis on endorsements from party leaders.

"Party committeemen don't represent a cross-section of the community, or I wouldn't be here today," said Kearns, who was snubbed by Democratic leaders when James D. Griffin vacated the South District seat last year.

The party backed Jeffrey Conrad, whom Kearns defeated in an election.

Kearns initially wanted the Council to hold hearings where every candidate could make statements and field questions. This week, Kearns proposed a compromise that would require party leaders to confirm that all candidates who submit resumes to City Hall are given a chance to meet with committee members. The party also would have to furnish a vote tally to back up its candidate recommendation.

But North Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. says Kearns' compromise allows for too much party influence. Golombek still favors a process that would see all candidates come before Council members in an open forum.

"I'd like to keep the party bosses out of the process," Golombek said.

Some have suggested that forces allied with Mayor Byron W. Brown support an effort to block LoCurto's appointment.

Not true, insisted First Deputy Mayor Steven M. Casey: "We're sitting back and letting the process play out. But we do think it should be an open process."

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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