At age 21, Oneonta's Clark Oliver will be one of the youngest legislators in New York, and the youngest ever on the Otsego County Board of Representatives.
His swearing in, in January, will take place about one month after another special day, his college graduation.
Oliver, who graduated from Oneonta High School in 2016, is an international development studies major at SUNY Oneonta. Despite transferring from Binghamton University after his freshman year, he is finishing college in less than four years, and he is going to have to supplement his part-time job representing District 11, the first and second wards of Oneonta, with another job.
"As someone who is just graduating, I am watching so many of my friends who have left or will be leaving," he said Monday, Nov. 11, in an interview with The Daily Star. "Even for myself, I wonder what else I will do to sustain myself. It may be waiting tables. And I don't mind that. I am proud to do that work, but I know that is not the kind of thing that is going to keep young people here."
Oliver, a Democrat, ran unopposed in the election Tuesday, Nov. 5, and according to the preliminary returns, got 436 votes. He had the endorsement of his predecessor, Board Vice Chair Gary Koutnik.
"Gary has been such a useful resource for me," Oliver said. "He has spent a lot of time breaking down all of these confusing issues for me. I think one of the biggest things — even with my constituents, I think, this has been a question they have — is what is it you do, and what can a county representative actually do?
Koutnik, who served four terms on the board, was also the chair of the Human Services Committee. Oliver said he is interested in many of the issues and projects that committee deals with, including homelessness, the Tiny Homes project and the Crossroads rehabilitation facility.
"I do think we share a lot of the same priorities," Oliver said.
Oliver said he has been interested in politics since 2016.
"It was the first opportunity I had to vote," he said. "I didn't really do very much during the 2016 election. ... When that election didn't go the way I expected, I realized I needed to do more."
He became president of the Otsego County Young Democrats, helping lead a coalition of door-knockers and campaigners through several election cycles. He worked on several political campaigns, winning some and losing some, before deciding to run for office, too.
"I realized local politics is the most effective way for an individual to make a change in society," he said.
Oliver said the environment is one issue he is passionate about, and he hopes to increase the county's sustainability efforts. He said he is committed to keeping Otsego County's taxes among the lowest in the state.
He also said he is thankful his predecessors will likely have approved the county administrator position by the time he takes office. That vote will happen at the board's meeting Wednesday, Dec. 5, at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown.
"I am very hopeful it will pass," Oliver said. "Once we have a professional at the helm, it will give the board members more time to look at the larger issues."
While attending grade school in Oneonta, Oliver was cast in a touring Broadway production for "The 101 Dalmatians Musical." He then went to an acting school in New York City for a few years, before returning to OHS. However, he has lived most of his life in Otsego County, and he said he wants to inspire other young people to get involved in government and public service.
"If we want young people to vote, if we want young people to be aware, we need them to see young people serving in elected positions," he said. "I am excited to begin serving."
Greg Klein, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7218.