He was smart, savvy and a mentor or adviser to virtually every politician in Buffalo.
He was, his closest friends will tell you, a man whose intellect and instincts were surpassed only by his love for a community he spent four decades trying to help.
David P. Rutecki, a politician turned banker, died of a stroke Tuesday in New York City. He was 64.
“If you wanted to know something, you called David,” said former Mayor Anthony M. Masiello. “His instincts in terms of politics and business were second to none. Our community has lost a great friend.”
Rutecki was, perhaps, best known for his four terms on the Common Council, where he represented Black Rock and Riverside, but his legacy of influence and service extends far beyond his tenure at City Hall.
Even after he left the Council in 1991 to join M&T Bank as a vice president, he remained active in politics and government, often working behind the scenes, doling out advice, lobbying for causes he believed in.
To this day, he is viewed almost universally by Democrats and Republicans, many of whom actively sought his counsel over the years, as one of the city’s brightest and most influential leaders.
“He was probably the best Common Council member we’ve ever had,” said developer Carl P. Paladino, a close friend for more than 30 years. “He also was one of those friends who would go to the wall for you. He was a real man. It’s a great loss for Buffalo.”
As a Council member and, before that, as Council chief of staff, a job he held for six years, Rutecki quickly gained a reputation as the city’s financial guru. No one knew the budget better, and no one was more respected when it came to the inner workings of city finances.
After eight years on the Council, he left for M&T and a high-profile job as point man for the bank’s business dealings with local municipalities.
In Rutecki, M&T found that perfect combination of economic and political intellect, a former elected official with a wide network of friends and allies.
“I think David knew just about everyone in Buffalo because he was so involved in the community throughout his career,” M&T Chairman and CEO Robert G. Wilmers said in a statement Wednesday. “His loss will be deeply felt across Western New York.”
There may be no better testimony to Rutecki’s legacy than the outpouring of emotion Wednesday from people who crossed his path during his nearly 40 years in public life.
They range from the region’s most powerful political and business leaders to former staff members who worked with him at City Hall.
“He’s irreplaceable,” said Eugene M. Fahey, a former Council colleague and now a justice in the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court. “He was kind of a brilliant guy and extremely generous – generous with both his time and his money. Buffalo was lucky to have him.”
For many, Rutecki’s lasting influence is not just the dozens, maybe hundreds, of politicians he left an imprint on, but the concrete projects he left behind.
In his relatively short time on the Council, he helped spearhead construction of the downtown baseball stadium now known as Coca-Cola Field and the restoration of the Allendale Theatre, home to the Theatre of Youth.
The one glitch in his solid reputation came during his last re-election campaign in 1989, when it was disclosed that Rutecki had failed to file federal income tax returns for four years in the 1980s and failed to pay his county property taxes for three years.
Despite that, he won re-election by a scant 79 votes, only to retire two years later for the job at M&T.
“The odd thing is, he was an introvert,” said Dale Zuchlewski, who succeeded Rutecki as Council member from the North District. “David liked to work behind the scenes. He wasn’t one of those backslappers, and politics didn’t come easily to him.”
Yet he continued to play a prominent role in government affairs, serving in a wide range of advisory capacities, most recently as a member of Chris Collins’ transition team when Collins was elected Erie County executive in 2007.
Rutecki also was one of three court-appointed mediators who tried to help county legislators come up with a compromise during the 2005 budget crisis.
“His legacy was one of caring for the underdog,” said former Council President George K. Arthur. “It was the little things – the quality-of-life issues, the things that mattered to the little guy – that he always battled for.”
As news of Rutecki’s death spread Wednesday, politicians from Mayor Byron W. Brown to Rep. Brian Higgins paid tribute to Rutecki’s long legacy of public service.
In every instance, they suggested that he had served as a mentor or counselor to them.
“David was a loyal friend,” said former County Executive Joel A. Giambra, who served with Rutecki on the Council. “He was one of the smartest and most competent colleagues I’ve ever served with.”
Rutecki, who retired from M&T earlier this year, is survived by his wife, Helen Osgood, a Buffalo lawyer, and two stepdaughters that friends say he considered his own.
Masiello, who has known Rutecki since they were Little League teammates on his father’s baseball team nearly 50 years ago, said that he saw his old friend at Curtain Up! two months ago and that all he could talk about was the arrival of his first grandson.
“He was ecstatic,” Masiello said, “absolutely ecstatic.”
Rutecki was visiting New York City to see his family and died just a few hours after seeing his new grandson.