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‘WARHORSE’: Many contests under his belt


He’s run for president, governor, lieutenant governor, Congress, the state Senate, county Legislature and, decades ago as a Republican, was charged with taking a bribe.

When newly announced 21st Congressional District Democratic candidate Stephen W. Burke calls himself “an old political warhorse,” he’s not just turning a phrase.

Mr. Burke, who in St. Lawrence County politics has twice been named county party chairman, has been elected to the Heuvelton Board of Education and the Macomb Town Council, has not been elected to the county Legislature, but not for lack of trying, and has dipped his toe into a lot of political waters — some tiny, some considerably larger.

But first, his brush with political infamy: in 1983, when he was a Republican Suffolk County committee member and a town of Brookhaven councilman, he was accused of taking a bribe to enable a business owner to get a favorable ruling in a zoning request. According to Newsday, Mr. Burke was arrested after he allegedly took a $6,000 down payment on a $12,000 bribe in a cemetery in the dark of night.

He was acquitted at trial, with a juror telling Newsday that the witnesses against Mr. Burke were not believable. Mr. Burke testified that the cash was a campaign contribution.

Later that year, he relocated to his property on Bishop Road in the town of Macomb and changed his registration to Democrat. He began raising beef and opened a small insurance brokerage.

He became involved with the Democratic Party, and in the winter of 1991, became one of 32 candidates on the New Hampshire primary ballot for president. He spent two weeks campaigning there, but it wasn’t enough; he finished with 39 votes and quickly abandoned his presidential campaign.

In 1992, Mr. Burke sought the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. David O’B. Martin, R-Morristown. He faced off against Margaret M. Ravenscroft, Rodman, and Daniel Francis, Watertown, in a September primary, and finished second with 3,455 votes to Mrs. Ravenscroft’s 4,318.

Mr. Burke then received the Liberal Party endorsement for the seat, but in the November election finished a distant fourth, with 4,300 votes to John M. McHugh’s 116,254.

A couple of years later, in 1994, Mr. Burke tested the waters for a possible primary challenge to Democratic Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. When the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee failed to endorse his effort, he decided against the challenge.

He did, however, seek and win that year the Democratic nomination to challenge state Sen. James W. Wright for the 46th District seat. In the three-way election that also featured Right to Life Party candidate Charles D. Savidge, Sen. Wright beat Mr. Burke 56,387 to 16,200.

Mr. Burke challenged Sen. Wright again in 1996, and did much better but by no means good enough, losing 56,094 to 26,694.

In 1998, Mr. Burke sought a seat on the St. Lawrence County Legislature against District 4 Legislator Alex A. MacKinnon. Mr. MacKinnon won, 1,143 to 665.

In 2002, Mr. Burke embarked on an effort to capture the nomination for state lieutenant governor, part of his effort to support the first gubernatorial candidacy of Andrew M. Cuomo. He lost to Dennis Mehiel at the state nominating convention, receiving 6.8 percent of the votes when he needed 25 percent to get on the primary ballot.

“The party bosses have spoken,” Mr. Burke told the Times, as he accused leaders of supporting Mr. Mehiel’s candidacy because of his money.

In 2010, Mr. Burke was elected to the Macomb Town Council.

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