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Colin Powell declined a job at his alma mater to keep one that nudges young people toward volunteer work.

The retired Army general was invited by New York State Republican Sen. Guy Velella to seek the vacant chancellorship of the 21-campus City University of New York.

Velella said Tuesday that Powell sent him a rejection letter, which was backed by top New York Republicans, including New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Gov. Pataki.

"My new duties as chairman of America's Promise . . . prevent me from considering any other position at this time," Powell wrote.

Powell, who grew up in New York City's South Bronx neighborhood and earned a bachelor's degree from City College in 1958, is considered a potential candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000.

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