Joel Giambra is the former two term County Executive of Erie County, serving from 2000 to 2008. Under his tenure, he cut property taxes by 31%, reduced county spending, and pushed for further property tax relief by shifting the County’s reliance away from the punitive property tax and towards the consumption-oriented sales tax. He often warred with the region’s political and business establishment, and took bold risks to force changes in Albany’s relationship with local government.
While serving as Buffalo City Comptroller early in his career he was an aggressive advocate for regional governance – often deriding Western New York’s political culture that prized municipal fiefdoms. He railed against Erie County’s 42 separate general purpose governments and instigated a regional conversation focused on making government smaller, more efficient, and more affordable.
“We are a community that grows older, poorer, and sicker; but our governments grow bigger, more costly, and less efficient,” he would often explain. That conversation would later enable the regional cooperation that followed. Giambra was never afraid to embrace bipartisanship, and reveled in an independent political style. He was a Democrat early in his career, later becoming a Republican in 1999.
Giambra was one of the youngest Buffalo Common Council members ever – and was an early champion of progressive urban revitalization efforts. He was a leading preservationist before the movement had a name for itself – championing the restoration of the Connecticut Street Armory and helping to prevent the large-scale slum clearance of the historic Columbus Park and Prospect Hill neighborhoods.
Raised in the ethnic Italian neighborhood of the Lower West Side of Buffalo, Giambra was born in 1951 to a single mother. He grew up in the Lakeview Housing Project. He later reflected that, “it was an environment where everybody was poor but we didn’t know it.”
Giambra attended Grover Cleveland High School and Erie Community College, married Michelle Lettieri in 1982, and raised four children: Gabriella, Nicholas, Dominic, and Joel. He resides in Tonawanda, NY. In recent years Giambra has embarked on a mission to rebuild his childhood neighborhood – buying up vacant lots and building new homes.
He is a cancer survivor, defeating an aggressive stage-four form of throat cancer that almost took his life, requiring him to endure intensive radiation and major surgery during his first term as County Executive.