An Ithaca Democrat (and former Manhattan lawyer) files to run for Hinchey’s seat

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Leslie Danks Burke. (Facebook)
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Leslie Danks Burke, an attorney and chair of the Town of Ithaca Democrats, has filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission to run for the open seat in New York's 22nd congressional district, which is being vacated by Maurice Hinchey.

"He's been a fantastic advocate for this region, and it's a huge loss that we're losing Congressman Hinchey," Danks Burke told me in a phone call this afternoon. "We need to make sure we continue to have strong Democrats in this region and we can't allow Congressman Hinchey's retirement to mean that Democrats are no longer at the table."

Hinchey was one of the more outspoken skeptics of hydraulic fracturing in Congress, and Danks Burke said the issue is her "biggest concern" in the region right now.

"I am concerned that we are looking at a short-term financial solution by bringing in hydrofracturing, and that that is not going to pull us through this recession for the long haul, and instead what it's going to do is damage the infrastructure that we already have," she said, citing a growing tourism and agricultural industry.

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Hinchey's announcement last month that he would not seek another term has cast doubt on whether the district will even exist in any recognizable form next year, since his exit offers Democrats an easy way to trim one seat from their ranks without upsetting a sitting incumbent. (New York will have to lose two congressional seats as part of the current redistricting process.)

The uncertainty about the districts discouraged at least one other potential Democrat from running. Ulster County Executive Mike Hein, a Democrat, expressed an interest in the race but recently told the Poughkeepsie Journal that he hadn't gotten in because of the uncertainty over the district lines.

Two Republicans, George Phillips and Tom Engel, had previously declared their intentions to run against Hinchey.

Danks Burke said she plans to run regardless of whether she's campaigning for an open seat or against a Republican incumbent. (She said she doesn't expect that the district would be redrawn to include a Democratic incumbent.)

Currently, the 22nd covers all of Sullivan and Ulster counties and stretches along the Pennsylvania border and then straight up to Ithaca, which is otherwise surrounded by Republican Richard Hanna in the 24th district.

"Ithaca has to go somewhere," she said. "The house that I live in currently has to be represented, and I am running for whatever district my house lands in."

With congressional primaries now slated for June, there is a newfound urgency for candidates to declare, regardless of the redistricting situation.

Danks Burke has already set up a website, which describes her experience as a Colorado native who attended the University of Chicago Law School and worked as an attorney in Manhattan before moving upstate. She is currently "of counsel" for a local firm, and said her campaign has raised $100,000 in the week since she formed her campaign committee.