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St. Lawrence County man will challenge Woolf in primary

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MACOMB - A former St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee chairman has entered the race for his party’s nomination in the 21st Congressional District.

Stephen W. Burke, who twice served as county chairman, said Monday that he would force a Democratic primary by circulating petitions to get on the June 24 primary ballot.

If he is successful, there will be primaries in the Democratic, Republican and Green parties to name party candidates for the seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

Mr. Burke said he decided to seek the nomination after district Democratic county chairpersons endorsed Aaron G. Woolf as the party’s candidate. Mr. Woolf, a documentary-film maker and organic-grocery store owner, was selected on Feb. 12. Mr. Woolf owns a house on about 150 acres in the town of Elizabethtown, Essex County, and splits his time between there and a home in New York City.

Mr. Burke, a farmer and insurance broker in Heuvelton, has been a resident of St. Lawrence County for about 30 years. He is a member of the Macomb Town Council and was a member of the Heuvelton Central School Board of Education.

Mr. Burke said he decided to run after he heard and read criticism contending that Mr. Woolf’s north country connections are dubious. He suggested that the committees skewed to Mr. Woolf because they felt he had enough money to fund or help fund the campaign.

“I’m an old political warhorse,” Mr. Burke said. “Money can’t be the whole thing. The party organization may be weak in raising money, but that’s no reason to pick a candidate.”

The candidate cited the north country’s flaccid economy as his primary concern. He said that Fort Drum, which contributes more than a billion dollars to the regional economy, and the remaining manufacturing centers, such as Alcoa, need a champion in Washington.

With the recent cuts in the military budget, Mr. Burke said, he would like to see the Department of Defense look first to close unimportant overseas bases before looking at any here in the U.S.

“Let’s start bringing those soldiers home and assigning them to bases here,” he said.

He also cited Alcoa, which has a new factory in Chile, as an asset the north country can ill afford to lose.

“We have to help them so they want to stay here,” Mr. Burke said.

Mr. Burke styled himself as a fiscal conservative and a “human liberal,” a combination he said resonates with 21st District voters. He said he had high regard for former Northern New York Rep. John M. McHugh, who is now secretary of the Army. Mr. Burke ran against Mr. McHugh on the Liberal Party line in 1992 and finished fourth in a four-way race.

Mr. Burke has worked in the state Legislature, as a legislative aide to Sen. Leon E. Giuffreda and then as aide to Assembly Speaker Perry B. Duryea Jr.

He has a colorful political history of his own. He has sought seats ranging from St. Lawrence County Legislature District 4 against Alex A. MacKinnon to U.S. House of Representatives against Mr. McHugh. He had a brief fling as a gubernatorial candidate against fellow Democrat Mario M. Cuomo, which he dropped in a matter of weeks, and a quixotic presidential foray before the 1992 presidential campaign in which he received 39 votes in the February 1991 New Hampshire primary.

He also created a stir in the north country when it was discovered that he was charged in 1983 with accepting a bribe while he was a town of Brookhaven councilman.

He was acquitted by a Suffolk County jury after testifying that the cash was a campaign contribution and that he had been entrapped. A juror told Newsday that the two witnesses against him were not believable.

Mr. Burke said his immediate task is to firm up his campaign organization. James Monroe is acting as campaign manager.

“I’m going to put together a good team,” Mr. Burke said. “We’ll get out there and win the primary, then focus on winning the election.”

Mr. Burke, 67, has a wife, Yelena, and a daughter, Angelina. The family raises mixed-breed cattle on their 400-acre farm.

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