Former Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski has died

Erie County

ERIE COUNTY, N.Y. (WIVB) — Former Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski has died at the age of 76. he had been battling Parkinson’s Disease for many years.

Gorski served for three terms as county executive and worked as a New York State Assemblyman. He’s also a United States Marine Corps veteran.

His final act in Western New York public service was as a justice in the Cheektowaga Town Court.

“This is a sad day for Erie County. He was a tremendous public official and a great American,” said Len Lenihan, former chairman of the Erie County Democratic Committee. Lenihan said Gorski always had the spirit for public service during his 12 years as Erie County’s first Democrat County Executive from 1988 through 1999.

“Dennis had a big heart,” said Anthony Masiello, former mayor of Buffalo. “He really enjoyed helping people and what I remember most about him is he had a tremendous skill set for public service. He was very smart, he studied history especially military operations and conflicts, he loved that kind of history.”

One of Gorski’s biggest achievements, according to Masiello, was bringing the World University Summer Games to Buffalo in 1993. “Solely on his tenacious pit bull efforts, he would not give up on that and single handedly delivered World University Games.”

Gorski spoke with News 4’s Don Postles at the 1993 World University summer games in Buffalo. The Queen City was the first and last American city to host the games. Watch the interview below:  

After serving as County Executive, Gorski went on to work for Blue Cross and then came back to public service as a Cheektowaga Town Judge until 2018.

“He came from a strong work ethic and that just shows how he was knocking on doors, going to door to door. The man was relentless, even in his sixties, running for judge, he came to my neighborhood, I said Dennis what are you doing, you got the neighborhood.’ He never gave up,” said Tom Mazur, former Erie County legislator.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says Gorski set the standard for leadership and good government, adding he still leans on the advice the three-term executive gave Poloncarz before taking office.

“I am very saddened to learn of the passing of former three-term Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski. County Executive Gorski set the standard of leadership and good government all county executives following aspire to attain. A Marine who served in Vietnam, County Legislator, NYS Assemblymember, and later in life, Cheektowaga Town Justice, he led a life of public service that is unmatched locally. On a personal note, before I took office as county executive, I asked him for advice and he offered the following that I still rely on today: ‘never forget, we serve at the will of the people and do what you believe in your heart is in the best interest of the people of our great community and you will succeed.’ I offer my deepest condolences to his wife Mary Jo, his children, and all his many friends and family on his passing,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz remarked.

City of Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown reflected on his time working for Gorski and the county executive’s efforts to diversify the county’s workforce.

“I am saddened by the news that former Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski passed away. I worked for Dennis from 1988 to 1995 as Director of the Division of Equal Employment Opportunity.  He cared deeply about the people of Erie County and made our community better. He was very efficient in the management of Erie County government and worked to diversify the County workforce.  He supported me throughout my service as an elected official.  I extend my deepest condolences to Dennis’s wife Mary Jo and the entire Gorski family. He will be sorely missed,” said Mayor Brown.

New York State Senator Sean Ryan offered his condolences and says Gorksi embodied the spirit of Western New York through his public service.

“Dennis Gorski defended our nation’s freedom and proudly served the people of Erie County throughout a lifetime of public service. Dennis embodied the spirit of Western New York and will forever be remembered for his remarkable tenure as our County Executive. I offer my condolences to his wife, Mary Jo, his children, and all his family and friends,” NYS Senator Ryan said.

Congressman Brian Higgins is remembering Gorski as a man of honor, expressing his condolences to Gorski’s wife Mary Jo, children and grandchildren.

“Dennis Gorski was a man of honor and commitment to public service. From his days in Vietnam as a young soldier to his legislative service, to 12 trailblazing years as Erie County Executive to his final years as a Cheektowaga Town Justice, Dennis spent the entirety of his adult life in service to the people and the community he loved so dearly. Our deepest condolences go out to Dennis’ wife Mary Jo, his children and grandchildren, and his many friends and his many friends and extended family members,” said Higgins.

Erie County Democratic Chairman Jeremy Zellner described Gorski as a “great friend, fierce advocate and exemplary citizen.”

“I once called Dennis Gorski the “gold standard” of public service, and that judgment stands as we mourn his passing on the anniversary of our nation’s founding. From military veteran to county legislator, three-term county executive, and town justice, Dennis was devoted to ideals above ideology, and believed in government that was at once fiscally responsible and compassionate.  Great friend, fierce advocate, and exemplary citizen: Dennis Gorski made this community stronger for his service and added to and upheld a proud family legacy. He will long be remembered and always missed,” added Zellner.

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw called Gorski a friend “outside of the political arena” and recounted the former county executive’s service to America and Western New York.

“Dennis Gorski honorably served our great nation around the world and our community here at home. We are forever grateful for his service to America, Cheektowaga, and Erie County. A combat veteran, Mr. Gorski lived his life dedicated to putting others first. Our professional paths first crossed in my time as an investigative reporter. He was a consummate political professional that understood and respected the role of a free press. Dennis was a great man. It was a privilege to call him a friend outside the political arena. Mr. Gorski was a conservative Democrat that regularly reached across the aisle to deliver results to taxpayers. Whether he served as a Legislator, Assemblyman, Erie County Executive or Town Justice, public service was his passion. May God bless his soul. Let us all say a prayer for Mr. Gorski and his family during this difficult time.”

Erie County Comptroller Stefan Mychajliw

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz released a statement on Monday morning:

“I am very saddened to learn of the passing of former three-term Erie County Executive Dennis Gorski. County Executive Gorski set the standard of leadership and good government all county executives following aspire to attain. A Marine who served in Vietnam, County Legislator, NYS Assemblymember, and later in life, Cheektowaga Town Justice, he led a life of public service that is unmatched locally.

On a personal note, before I took office as county executive, I asked him for advice and he offered the following that I still rely on today: ‘Never forget, we serve at the will of the people, and do what you believe in your heart is in the best interest of the people of our great community and you will succeed.’

I offer my deepest condolences to his wife Mary Jo, his children, and all his many friends and family on his passing.”

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Patrick Ryan is a digital producer who has been part of the News 4 team since 2020. See more of his work here.

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