MACOMB — While Aaron Woolf has sucked up all of the oxygen from the left in the race to replace outgoing Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh), the federal representative who announced earlier this year that he is retiring after a two-term stint, another Democrat is vying for his party’s nomination: Steven Burke.
“I saw a vacancy when they picked a novice,” Burke said in between mouthfuls of Raisin Bran when reached by phone at his home in this small town in St. Lawrence County. “With the problems occurring in the district and the crossroads we’re at, they’ll eat him up alive in Washington DC and he won’t know how to bring the necessary help to the North Country that we need.”
Burke is referring to Aaron Woolf, the filmmaker/grocery store owner who was endorsed by 11 of the 12 Democratic county committees on Feb. 12 — Essex County issued a belated endorsement on March 27 — but didn’t speak to the press or make any public appearances until a month later.
Burke said he has “negotiative experience” and is familiar with how legislatures work, attributes that he said make him the best man for the job.
The candidate currently serves as a councilman in Macomb. In addition, he said he once worked for the state senate as legislative assistant, did a stint with Perry Duryea, the state assembly speaker from 1969-74, and was a Middlecountry Central School District board member.
“As a young man, I interned in the US Supreme Court for a short time,” he said. “It was incredible and I didn’t realize how important the experience was until years later.”
Burke said Congress isn’t a miracle worker when it comes to job creation and legislators should take a pro-active approach in resurrecting the moribund economy.
“The entire country is now experiencing what the North County has been feeling for many years,” he said. “We have to utilize ideas and get the country moving. We have to try to raise all ships with an incoming tide of ideas.”
The candidate said he would work to reverse the exodus of manufacturing jobs overseas and tied that to the American military presence throughout the world:
“We have approximately 500 bases around the world in 40 countries and we’re bleeding money to maintain these bases — especially in countries that don’t contribute to their maintenance. Close the overseas bases and bring them home.”
Burke then suggested the money saved could be funneled into a long-term fund to help entrepreneurs reopen clothing factories with low interest rates.
Infrastructure development, he said, is key to this. He envisioned the creation of factories alongside major highways and railways designed to ferry their products through the North Country and to ports for export.
Burke said modern trains are not those of yesterday which “belched great smoke” and caused great problems. “They’re energy efficient," he said.
Addressing the rail-trail debate, an ongoing discussion ascertaining if railway trails should be ripped up in favor of developing recreational pathways or kept intact to develop railway tourism, he said both sides can find common ground:
“Tourism is a good thing,” he said. “I’m very happy to see recreation trails, but we still have people living in these areas who need work. We have to combine both — the country needs to help and we need to pull it together.”
Burke said the country should prioritize growing its own food, something he said will inject more jobs into the economy.
“Free trade is wonderful if you’re out of the country,” he said. “The government needs revenue and importing goods and food from outside isn’t right when people are looking for work.”
The candidate said the Affordable Care Act has to be tweaked to include legislators, who are currently exempt.
“It will be a better program if they are included because if they’re going to get the best, then the people will get the best.”
“It should not be infringed upon,” quoted the candidate. “That says it all.”
“New York State should not have done what they did at the time they did it,” he said in reference to the controversial SAFE act that was passed by the state legislature last year. “It was a reaction that was not thought out properly. We have enough laws in New York State and they worked well until now without adding to them.”
Burke said he hasn’t spoken with Bill Owens aside from once last year when he was campaigning in Canton.
“I had a constituent in his community and I asked for Owens’ help, which helped the individual a lot,” said Burke.
Some county committee chairs were happy at his decision to challenge Woolf for the nomination, he said. Others were not.
To have to ballot access for the Democratic primary on June 24, the candidate must collect 1250 signatures by April 10.
“The Democrats are blocking me because they’ve got the candidate they like,” he said. “It’s a lonely road from now until I win the primary — then it’ll be a lovefest.”