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Erstwhile congressional candidate Stephen Burke not surprised by Woolf’s Albany election connections

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WATERTOWN — Stephen W. Burke, the self-described “political warhorse” who tried to take on Democrat Aaron G. Woolf in a party primary for New York’s 21st Congressional District, said that he was not surprised by a story last week linking Mr. Woolf to a prominent Albany elections attorney.

“I was fighting forces far greater than I had thought,” Mr. Burke said, reacting to a New York Daily News blog post about Kathleen O’Keefe, the attorney who represented St. Lawrence County Democrat Jason R. Clark in an objection to Mr. Burke’s ballot petitions.

Mr. Woolf, a documentary filmmaker with a home in Elizabethtown, is running against Republican and Conservative candidate Elise M. Stefanik, a former White House policy adviser who lives in Willsboro, and Green Party candidate Matthew J. Funiciello, a bakery and cafe owner from Glens Falls.

In April, the New York state Board of Elections invalidated 175 signatures on Mr. Burke’s ballot petitions, leaving him 1,116 — 134 shy of the minimum 1,250 needed to appear on the primary ballot.

According to the Daily News story, which appeared on the Mouth of the Potomac blog, Ms. O’Keefe was paid $12,630 by the Woolf campaign for her services in April and May, despite representing Mr. Clark in his objection to the state Board of Elections.

The story also suggested that Ms. O’Keefe, who has worked with Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, in the past, may have had a conflict of interest in representing Mr. Clark before the Board of Elections since she already had been appointed co-counsel to the board.

Jefferson County Attorney David J. Paulsen, reached at home Sunday, said that a conflict of interest does not typically exist until someone assumes the position to which he or she is appointed, though he acknowledged that the matter could be open to interpretation.

For Mr. Burke, however, the issue is not so much that Ms. O’Keefe had a conflict of interest in representing Mr. Clark, but that the state Democratic Party endeavored so assiduously to keep him off the ballot.

“They were very vindictive,” Mr. Burke said. “I never did anything to hurt them. My whole thing, if I lost the primary, OK, good, (Mr. Woolf) won, I would support him. It was a higher group than him. They went through the state committee.”

Mr. Burke said his ill-fated candidacy was based on giving voters a local choice in the election.

“If I had to do it again, I would run against him again, or try to,” Mr. Burke said. “I don’t think that he has any idea of what we are up here.”

During the ballot petitioning process, the Woolf campaign worked with Ms. O’Keefe and Frank G. Hoare, a noted Albany elections attorney and a former executive director of the state Democratic Committee. Both attorneys were hired on the recommendation of local residents, according to the Woolf campaign. The Woolf campaign paid Mr. Hoare $7,500 in April and May, according to the Federal Election Commission.

The Stefanik campaign also worked with an attorney — James Walsh of Ballston Spa — to bring objections against the Conservative and Independence Party ballot petitions of her then-opponent Matthew A. Doheny. The state Board of Elections upheld the majority of Mr. Doheny’s Independence Party petitions. Ms. Stefanik was endorsed by the state Conservative Party prior to the primary.

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