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Tonawanda city clerk plans to retire after long career in government

Tonawanda City Clerk Gayle Syposs said she never saw her job as just issuing dog licenses and marriage certificates.

Instead, she saw her role as advising the City Council.

"Anybody can issue marriage certificates and dog licenses, but the city clerk needs to be the eyes and ears to the City Council," she said. "My value to the Council is my history with the city."

Syposs, 74, is preparing to retire as city clerk at the end of her two-year term in February. But she has no intention to abandon city politics.

For the past 20 years, Syposs has served as Democratic Party chair in the city. Syposs is also chair of the Erie County Democratic Town Chairs Association and treasurer of the Erie County Democratic Committee.

Syposs has been a force in Tonawanda since 1975, when she became the first woman to be elected to the Common Council and was called "the skirt" behind her back by a male colleague. Syposs served on the council off and on for 12 years. She also ran, unsuccessfully, for mayor (she lost by 300 votes) and council president. From 1996 to 2012 she worked for the Erie County Board of Elections as assistant deputy commissioner.

City Council President Jenna Koch called Syposs "a pioneer leader in our community."

Gayle Syposs, shown in a 1976 photo, was the first female elected to the Common Council in the City of Tonawanda. (Provided by Gayle Syposs)

Syposs said she first got involved in local politics in 1971 when she joined a citizen's group that successfully fought against New York State's plan to turn Niagara Street into a four-lane arterial.

"It's the best thing I ever did in my life. (The Department of Transportation's) proposal would have cut into the park. There would be no pavilion, no bathrooms and 30 percent of our current park would be taken over by a four-lane highway," she said.

Syposs said she has always rolled up her sleeves to get things done and is not afraid to speak up and take charge.

That attitude extends her personal life, where she said she took the lead when her family faced hardships. Syposs took in her sister, who is 13 years her junior, when Syposs was just 19-years-old and newly married. Later, her oldest son was hit by a drunk driver when he was 17, and he became disabled and needing round the clock care. Then last year, her husband, Chauncey Jr. died.

"Being able to lean on her to get things done is huge, but I know Gayle has earned some time to lean back and push the reset button," Mayor Rick Davis said. "She's been through a lot in the last few years."

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