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Photo illustration by Brit Worgan

ONEONTA _ It's a primary showdown between a college student and a former college president.

One is a 21-year-old Democrat. The other is a 66-year-old independent authorized to seek that party's line on the ballot.

Jason Corrigan and Richard Miller will square off Tuesday to win the Democratic line for the Nov. 3 Oneonta mayoral election. Both men are also running as independents and will face Republican Erik Miller, alderman for the Third Ward, who is running on the Republican, Working Families, Conservative and Independence lines.

On Wednesday, Richard Miller, who retired as president of Hartwick College last year, reflected on his primary duel with Corrigan and said he felt it wouldn't decide anything in the general election, but could send signals.

"It's certain that all three candidates will be on the ballot in November," Miller said.

If Corrigan were to win the primary, Miller said he would "soldier on" as an independent. If Corrigan were to lose by a narrow margin, it would enhance Corrigan's legitimacy for voters Nov. 3, Miller said.

"(If) I win by a larger margin, I think that enhances the way in which people view me as an experienced candidate," Miller said.

Corrigan, a senior at the State University College at Oneonta, was scheduled for an interview with The Daily Star the same day as Miller but canceled it about an hour before it was to occur, saying he was too busy. He said he did not want to reschedule it and would rather focus his efforts in the days leading up to the primary on campaigning door-to-door than on interviewing for this story.

The stage for a three-way race was set in March when Mayor John Nader announced he was promoted from dean of liberal arts at the State University College of Technology at Delhi to provost and would not seek a second four-year term.

Erik Miller, 34, was the first to state an interest in running for mayor, doing so on the heels of Nader's announcement. Corrigan told The Daily Star in April that he would seek the mayor's seat as a Democrat and with his own Unifying Oneonta party. Richard Miller officially entered the race in early May after weeks of speculation.

Richard Miller said Wednesday that it was never his intention to run solely as a Democrat. From the beginning of his campaign, he said he would be running on his Collaborate for Oneonta party line and at the same time seek the lines of whatever recognized state party would have him, including the Democrat, Republican, Working Families, Conservative and Independence parties.

"The Democratic Party responded affirmatively and authorized me to participate in their primary," Miller said. "I was not intentionally trying to exclusively align myself with the Democratic Party. I was looking for broad-based support from various parties in the context of the collaboration idea."

A mayoral primary is a rare event in Oneonta politics. A search of The Daily Star archives revealed no mayoral primaries as far back as the 1973 election. Former Mayor David Brenner said he recalls no mayoral primaries, at least since four-year terms started in the early 1960s.

Miller has the backing of prominent city Democrats, including Nader, former Mayor Kim Muller and Janet Potter. Corrigan has not received backing from the city party elite.

The city had 2,537 Democrats and 1,486 Republicans out of 5,592 registered voters as of April 1, according to the state Board of Elections.

The main focuses of Corrigan's campaign have been promoting the idea of passenger rail service between Binghamton and Albany; developing green energy and jobs; and developing arts and entertainment programs.

Corrigan has also said he would like to increase career opportunities to keep young professionals in Oneonta.

Corrigan grew up in Clifton Park and is a 2006 graduate of Shenendehowa High School. He transferred to SUNY Oneonta from the State University College at Plattsburgh for the spring 2008 semester.

Corrigan has said he is also interested in improving relations between year-round residents and college students and believes that gaining state and federal aid to build off-campus housing downtown could help with this goal.

He has been active in organizing community service events while at SUNY Oneonta, and has said he would donate the $19,500 mayor's annual salary to a scholarship fund that would aid qualified but financially strapped students. He has also said that if he is elected, he would stay in Oneonta after he graduates next year.

Miller said he grew up in a middle-class Republican family in Rochester and may have first registered to vote as a Republican. He said he was a registered Democrat in the early 1970s before deciding to no longer register with a party by the late 1970s or early 1980s.

"I found myself not aligned philosophically with either of the parties, and my approach was to generally pick the person who was most appropriate rather than pick the party affiliation," Miller said.

Miller, a Vietnam veteran, worked in the private sector with Case-Hoyt, leaving the printing and manufacturing firm as CEO and president in 1987 for academia. He served 13 years with the University of Rochester as vice president, senior counsel to the president, senior vice president and chief operating officer. Miller then served as vice chancellor and chief operating officer of the State University of New York before becoming Hartwick College's ninth president in the fall of 2003. After he retired, he and his wife, Andi, founded the consulting firm 55 Maple St. LLC, which is collaborating with Otsego County Economic Development on a downtown development contract with the city of Oneonta.

Miller has a six-part platform: Increase downtown retail activity and make shopping and dining downtown an attractive experience; promote cooperation in city neighborhoods between those who own their homes, landlords and renters; build upon the relationships between year-round residents and college students; increase the community's understanding of the city's finances; ensure consideration is given to sustainability and environmental implications in all city decisions; and build consensus among aldermen on priority issues.

The city has excelled in recent years with keeping property taxes moderate, dealing with the flooding of June 2006 and its aftermath and considering a controversial biomass plant proposal, Miller said.

The redevelopment of the former Bresee's complex on Main Street is a major initiative that appears to have been successful so far, he said.

"It looks like it is going to happen and have an enormous impact on downtown," Miller said.

But Miller said he sees areas where governance can improve at City Hall.

"I have a general feeling that city government "" this is not the fault of any individual "" does not focus enough on big-picture issues and spends too much time on what I might call the mundane," Miller said. "I think that if I am elected, one of the first things I am going to try to do is sit with the (Common) Council and try to develop among us some agreement as to the three or four top things that we ought to be trying to accomplish."

Miller said the city also needs to do a better job in filling key positions at City Hall, naming the code enforcement officer job that has been vacant for more than 11/2 years as an example.

"You have very important positions that go unfilled. The process of filling those positions is overly complicated and overly bureaucratic," Miller said.

The Democratic primary for mayor is open to registered Democrats in the city of Oneonta. Voting will take place from noon to 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Biographies:

JASON CORRIGAN

Parties: Democrat, Unifying Oneonta

Age: 21

Occupation: Full-time student

Education: Communications major, State University College at Oneonta class of 2010

Website: Unifyingoneonta.com

RICHARD P. MILLER JR.

Parties: Independent, Collaborate for Oneonta

Age: 66

Occupation: Retired college president, private consultant.

Education: Bachelors degree in Sociology, Middlebury College

Website: Pickdick.net

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