Heuvelton Democrat challenges Woolf in Congress race

Stephen Burke, a Democrat from Heuvelton, will run in the 21st Congressional District, challenging Democrat Aaron Woolf, who previously secured the Democratic county chairs’ endorsement.

Burke said his decision to run came after reading articles in newspapers describing Woolf, who has a home in Elizabethtown, as reluctant to speak with the press.

“I’m happy to speak with you,” Burke told the Enterprise. “I’m not hiding behind a tree.

“I’m starting to put people together as a team, but our priority is petitioning.”

If he can collect the needed 1,250 signatures, there would be a Democratic primary in June.

Burke, 67, has many years of experience in politics and government. He is currently an elected town councilman in Macomb, was formerly the St. Lawrence County Democratic Party chairman, has previously worked five years as an aide in the state Senate and as a young man was an intern for the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I know what local government is here, but also understand state government,” Burke said. “I know how agreements go. It’s a give and take.”

He lives in Heuvelton on a 400-acre farm. There he raises cattle and also owns a small business, a company that investigates insurance claims.

Burke described the retiring Democrat Rep. Bill Owens as a “very good representative” but added that his seat is too important to leave to a “political novice.”

“This country is in trouble,” Burke said. “We have layoffs and department store closings. We have to do something different.

“Nobody is thinking of ideas of what to do. They’re running around like chickens with their heads cut off.”

He described himself as fiscally conservative and liberal on social issues, believing in bringing industry back to America and keeping unions strong.

Burke spoke up against potential spending cuts at Fort Drum, saying the military is too expanded overseas defending other countries and should cut there instead.

“We are in trouble over here at Fort Drum and other bases around the country that might close,” Burke said. “I wouldn’t do it – close bases in the country – rather than protecting the world, which we shouldn’t be doing.”

Describing the president’s health care law, Burke said it “needs to be tweaked.” And he added that Congress members and their staff should be enrolled, which they are not now.

Burke’s decision came as a big surprise to Mark Bellardini, the chairman of the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee. Burke said Bellardini was angry when they spoke.

“It was a big surprise; unfortunately, he chose not to notify us,” Bellardini said. “I was disappointed in him that I had to find out through the media.”

Bellardini said Burke is joining the race late and had doubts he would be able to raise enough signatures. He said Woolf was well received by the St. Lawrence County Democratic Committee and is the right choice for the party.

“Aaron is doing what he needs to do, get to his base first,” Bellardini said. “He’s not letting the media portray him to the base.”

Bellardini said this strategy has gotten Woolf more media attention.

Burke stood by his decision to run.

“As a (former) party chair, I know everyone wants to support their party,” Burke said. “It’s a free country. I’m a Democrat, and I feel he (Woolf) doesn’t represent my interest or the interests of the district.”

Woolf’s campaign released a message Monday, shortly after Burke’s announcement.

“I’m not a paid political operative or a frequent political candidate,” Woolf said in a press release. “I am simply a husband, father, and small business owner who cares deeply about the residents in the 21st Congressional District.

“Right now, I’m focused on going around the district and hearing from voters about their ideas on ways we together can create new jobs and get the North Country’s economy moving again.”

Similarly, the 12 Democrat county chairs sent out a unified message of continued support for Woolf.

“Aaron has been focused on going around the district,” they said in a press release. “Hearing from voters about their ideas on ways we together can strengthen the district’s infrastructure, create new jobs and get the North Country’s economy moving again. That’s his main focus right now.”

Burke said he plans to build up his campaign and continue to seek endorsements from Democrats.

“I believe in God, country and the American way,” Burke said.