For any of us who have spent any part of our lives in the public arena, we know that such work can provide the highs of knowing that we have done some good for others. But we have also dealt with the hurt of being criticized for things that didn’t turn out so well, or maybe were just misunderstood. That’s life.
On Friday Channel 2 ran a story about Cheektowaga Town Justice Dennis Gorski. Behind the shield of anonymity some people commented negatively on how they see Gorski doing his job, and even played doctor (and lawyer) to criticize the Judge.
In the interview Dennis made it known that he is confronting a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease. “It’s ambulatory, non-cognitive,” he told Channel 2. “My mind is clear. People can say what they want to say. All I know is one thing. I work very hard. I think my decisions are in the best interest of the community.” Knowing Dennis, he will face this challenge with the same energy that he has confronted every other challenge or opportunity.
I have prepared many posts that have been published on this blog analyzing the work of people in the public arena. Even for those who I have not been an ally of, I have tried to be as fair and balanced as I can be. I attach my name to everything that I have written. I wish that others who offer public commentary would do likewise but I have learned not to count on it.
It is from that prospective that I offer a few observations about Dennis Gorski.
I’m not a lawyer. I have never been in Judge Gorski’s court room. I have only a passing knowledge about the job of a town justice. But I know a lot about Dennis Gorski, and in the interest of balance I would like to note some things.
I have known and been a friend of Dennis for about forty-three years and we have both seen our share of the good and the not so good sides of public life. Dennis’ work through all these years has been consistently dedicated and honest. It would be difficult for me to think of another public official who has worked harder to understand and to carry out his responsibilities.
We both grew up in the Kaisertown part of Buffalo, where people understand and appreciate the value of hard work. For Dennis, that is how he has operated in all the jobs he has ever had.
For Dennis the real world began in Vietnam. He was a Marine Captain, and he learned very quickly how to lead by example and to push himself as hard as he pushed the men under his command.
Service in Vietnam was followed by a year in law school. But then along came an opportunity to run for public office, to stand up for what he believed in, and to try to accomplish some things for the people who put him in that office.
Three years as a member of the County Legislature were followed by thirteen more as a State Assemblyman. He understood his job was to serve, and he made every effort to deliver for his constituents.
Where Dennis really made his mark was in his three terms as Erie County Executive, a job that he relished because it put him in charge of a government that touched the lives of most people living in the community through the provision of services and the management of public facilities. He went out of his way to learn all he could about the role of county government. He managed every dollar that the public entrusted him with as if it was his own.
I had the opportunity for the last three years of his time in that office to serve as the county budget director. That job showed me every day the skill that Dennis has in negotiating, cajoling and leading.
Dennis lost his try for a fourth term, but he didn’t look for some sinecure or to ride out his years. He worked for about twelve years in executive positions in the private sector, throwing himself into each job to learn all he could and to produce for his employers.
Along the way in recent years he began to serve his community in a private way, providing direct and personal assistance to people in need. Most people know nothing about that work, and Dennis prefers it that way.
And then the opportunity came along for public service once again. He worked with the same vigor in the 2014 campaign for judge that he did in his first campaign in 1971. Like the majority of town justices in New York State who are not attorneys, Dennis brought the benefits of hard work and the experiences of a life of public service to the bench.
Life for most of us is not a straight-line path. It has highs and lows. It forces us to work to our strengths and deal with things we cannot control.
It bothers me to see a one-sided picture of a dedicated life. I hope that we all can see that. Dennis Gorski has earned the right to stand proud. I’m honored to call him my friend.