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A reason to run

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Well, the Democrats finally have a race!

Heuvelton resident Stephen W. Burke announced Monday he will run for the Democratic nomination for the 21st Congressional District. Once U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh, said he would not seek re-election, political parties started scrambling to line up their best candidates.

Mr. Burke decided to jump into the race after Democratic representatives endorsed Aaron G. Woolf for the nomination. A documentary filmmaker and organic grocer, Mr. Woolf has residences in Elizabethtown, Essex County, and New York City.

Mr. Woolf’s campaign, such that he has one, has been remarkably quiet over the past month. Democratic committee chairs from the 12 counties in the 21st Congressional District emerged from a closed-door, daylong selection meeting in Long Lake on Feb. 12 to declare that he was their preferred candidate.

But since other people have publicly declared that he is a candidate (we can’t really determine if he has actually done so officially as of yet), Mr. Woolf has been hard to pin down — on anything. He has put more effort in avoiding the spotlight than he has in campaigning for the office for which he’s been endorsed.

In one of his two very brief public appearances before media reporters, he said that creating more jobs is the most pressing issue we face. Other than that, Mr. Woolf promised to make a big announcement in the near future.

So we’re not sure what Mr. Woolf believes are the other big issues in the 21st Congressional District or how they should be resolved. But regardless of this lack of information, Democratic committee chairs throughout the district convinced themselves he is the right man for the job.

With several high-profile individuals declining to run as a Democrat for the congressional seat, it looked like Mr. Woolf was going to have a cakewalk en route to the nomination. With virtually no input from residents of the district, Democratic leaders could anoint their own candidate and save their financial resources for the general election.

This, however, would not serve the interests of the people who make up this district. To push through a candidate who displays so little background understanding of the region he wishes to represent in Congress is insulting.

Mr. Woolf said he has been listening to residents here to gauge what is important to them. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that.

But at the same time, there must be a reason he wants to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. The best reason would be that he believes he can work on the issues that residents here care most about. But if Mr. Woolf can’t publicly articulate his understanding of those issues before being named the candidate of choice, he either doesn’t know why he wants to run for the seat or the interests he intends to serve in Congress are his own.

Into this void of political leadership stepped Mr. Burke. He has lived in St. Lawrence County for the past 30 years and has run for numerous elective positions; he twice served as St. Lawrence County Democratic chairman. He’s not afraid to address questions from news reporters because he knows what local issues are most important to his neighbors.

Political competition is the crucial element when practicing democracy and forcing candidates to declare more centrist positions. A contested primary among the Democrats may well compel Mr. Woolf out of his comfort zone and onto the stump to win the nomination. Let the campaign begin.

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