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Rochester mayor's race pits two insiders

ROCHESTER -- A special election for mayor of Rochester pits a former three-term incumbent against a Democratic Party nominee who once headed the Rochester Gas & Electric utility.

Voters in this city of 210,000 on Lake Ontario's southern shore were deciding yesterday who should succeed Robert Duffy, who became New York's lieutenant governor in January.

William Johnson Jr., a political outsider when he became the city's first black mayor in 1994, failed to win Democratic Party backing and is seeking a fourth term on an independence ticket to fill out the remainder of Duffy's four-year term.

Johnson, 68, led the city's Urban League for 20 years before being elected to City Hall on his first try. He stepped down in 2005 and said he's running again to give voters a choice among Democrats.

Thomas Richards, 67, who became Duffy's deputy mayor in October, was chief executive of Rochester's utility from 1998 until he was forced out in a 2002 merger. He earned a severance package valued at $10 million. He left retirement in 2006 to become the city's corporation counsel.

The Green Party nominee, Alex White, 47, is a former teacher who owns a game store.

Duffy was the city's police chief during much of Johnson's tenure and was in his second term as mayor last May when he became Andrew Cuomo's choice to join his winning campaign for governor. On his departure, Richards became acting mayor, but resigned after just 18 days to clear his path to run for mayor.

The shortened mayoral campaign has been relatively low-key, with candidates focusing on how best to spread out a scarcity of funds to lift ailing, inner-ring neighborhoods.

Johnson was dogged by complaints about his handling of a failed ferry service to Toronto that left the city of Rochester with upward of $20 million in losses. But he counters that the city's reinvigorated port benefited from a huge influx of federal and state aid.

Rochester is a battered but resilient city -- New York's third largest -- that has grappled for years with soaring deficits and long been haunted by a high homicide toll. It is best known to outsiders as the headquarters of Eastman Kodak Co.

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