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Portraits of county executives unveiled at Rath Building

It doesn’t take much goading for a gathering of current and former Erie County executives to start needling each other, especially in front of TV cameras.

And, yes, when one or two also faced each other on Election Day.

So when County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz invited three of his predecessors to their old haunts on the 16th floor of the Rath County Office Building on Wednesday to unveil a collection of county executive paintings, former County Executive Dennis T. Gorski kicked off the routine.

“Go ahead, Joel, you’re never at a loss for words,” he said to the Republican who beat him in 1999 – Joel A. Giambra.

“I was concerned they might have burned mine,” kidded former County Executive Edward J. Rutkowski, turned out of office by Gorski in 1987.

And when Giambra’s turn came, he blamed his least favorite colors to explain why the paintings by Lake View artist Mary Smith were never displayed before.

“I think it had something to do with the red and green budget,” he deadpanned, referring to the infamous versions of his mid-2000s spending plans that helped hasten his exit from politics.

Nevertheless, it was with a sense of the history of the office dating to Edward A. Rath Sr.’s election in 1960 that prompted Poloncarz to gather his predecessors to unveil the long hidden portraits in a 16th floor hallway.

“The walkway up here is relatively narrow,” observed Gorski, now a Cheektowaga town justice. “That, I think, is to prevent darts from being thrown.”

The paintings were commissioned during the Gorski administration and completed during Giambra’s time in county hall. The portraits were stored in the Buffalo History Museum until recently rediscovered and moved to the county’s executive’s chambers. The portraits include Rath, Rutkowski, Gorski and Giambra, as well as former county executives B. John Tutuska and Edward V. Regan.

Tutuska’s son, John, spoke on his late father’s behalf. Regan died in 2014.

No portraits were commissioned of former County Executive Chris Collins, Poloncarz explained.

“We thought it would be appropriate to put them on display for people to see when they come to do business in the county executive’s chambers,” Poloncarz said. “And I’m proud to say we’ve had some great county executives who have worked for this community.”

While public funds paid for the original paintings, Poloncarz said he is inclined to ask any future subjects of county executive portraits to pay for and donate their own likenesses – as is the City Hall custom for former mayors.

When the former county executives finished posing and as the ceremony was ending, Gorski found himself trying to leave by the wrong door.

“You’d think I’d know my way around here,” he said.