Karen DeWitt

Capitol Bureau Correspondent, Albany

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.

She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now.  She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers. 

Karen previously worked for WINS Radio, New York, and has written for numerous publications, including Adirondack Life and the Albany newsweekly Metroland.

She is a past recipient of the prestigious Walter T. Brown Memorial award for excellence in journalism, from the Legislative Correspondents Association, and was named Media Person of the Year for 2009 by the Women’s Press Club of New York State.

Karen is a graduate of the State University of New York at Geneseo.

Pages

9:12pm

Wed July 23, 2014
Politics and Government

Fallout for Cuomo over report his aides interfered with ethics probes

Gov. Andrew Cuomo named the Moreland Commission on public corruption in July 2013
Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

One of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’ s political opponents is calling on Cuomo to hold an explanatory press conference, and  another is demanding that the governor to resign after an in-depth account in The New York Times reports that the governor’s top staff repeatedly interfered in an ethics commission investigation.

Cuomo created the ethics commission under the state’s Moreland Act a little over a year ago amidst rampant corruption rampant in the legislature, that included a string of indictments, resignations and jailings of lawmakers.

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4:31pm

Mon July 21, 2014
Politics

Siena Poll finds Cuomo far ahead in governor's race, Common Core unpopular

Gov. Andrew Cuomo leads his Republican opponent by more than 35 points, with less than four months until Election Day.
Zack Seward WXXI

A poll conducted fifteen weeks before Election Day shows incumbent New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is maintaining a wide lead over his nearest challenger.

According to a recent Siena Research Institute poll, Cuomo is 37 points ahead of Republican challenger Rob Astorino.  The Democrat also has a high favorability rating, while 60 percent of voters have never heard of Astorino.

Candidates’ financial statements were released earlier this month, and Cuomo reported having $35 million, compared to Astorino’s $2.4 million in the bank.

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5:25am

Mon July 21, 2014
Education

Teachers union not ready to reverse no confidence vote in education commissioner

New York State Education Commissioner John King
Ryan Delaney WRVO/file photo

The president of the state’s teachers’ union says members are not yet ready to rescind a vote of no confidence in state Education Commissioner John King, despite improved relations in recent months.

New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee was elected in April amid deep dissatisfaction over education policy in New York.  Magee ousted a three-term incumbent, and teachers held a symbolic vote of no confidence in King, over what critics call a botched roll out of the new Common Core learning standards.

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5:54am

Fri July 18, 2014
Politics and Government

Hochul explains past anti-immigration views

Kathy Hochul/Facebook

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate, lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul, is explaining why she now feels differently about undocumented immigrants. Hochul, the former Erie County clerk, once wanted to turn immigrants suspected of being in the country illegally over to federal authorities.

Hochul has been meeting privately with key Latino leaders since her nomination in May. She says it was a different time and place back in 2006, when she was Erie County clerk and opposed to then Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s plan to issue drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants.

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5:30am

Fri July 18, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo creates fourth ballot line for reelection

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lieutenant governor candidate Kathy Hochul during the Democratic Party's nomination convention. (file photo)
Matt Ryan, New York Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is creating another ballot line for the November elections -- the Women’s Equality line.

Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s running mate, lieutenant governor candidate and former western New York congresswoman, announced the formation of the new ballot line at a press conference with women supporters near a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

“It’s time we organized our own movement led by our own political party,” Hochul told the cheering crowd.

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5:30am

Thu July 17, 2014
Politics and Government

Oversight board approves Cuomo's loan request for Tappan Zee Bridge

State Sen. John DeFrancisco (R- Syracuse), in the center, asks pointed questions before ultimately voting yes on the loan request for the Tappan Zee Bridge.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

A key oversight board approved half of the amount Gov. Andrew Cuomo had sought for a loan from a clean water fund to help pay for the construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge. But the meeting included accusations from a board member that Cuomo administration officials are trying to hide bad news about future toll hikes on the bridge and the rest of the New York State Thruway.

Public Authorities Control Board member, state Sen. John DeFrancisco, cast the deciding vote to go ahead with the loan that was reduced from around $500 million to just over $250 million.

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5:36am

Wed July 16, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo says private market will decide future of NY's casino industry

Matthew Powell/flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’s not concerned about reports that the casino gambling industry may not be all that healthy. The negative news comes as the state is considering authorizing four new gambling centers in the next few months.

One third of Atlantic City’s casinos, including one run by Donald Trump, have announced plans to close, and Moody’s investor rating services has downgraded the casino industry from stable to negative citing “declines in comparable monthly gaming revenue.” 

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5:30am

Wed July 16, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo far outraises GOP gubernatorial opponent

Ryan Delaney WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is already ahead of his Republican challenger in name recognition. Now, according to required campaign disclosure filings with the state Board of Elections, Cuomo is far ahead in fundraising as well.

Cuomo, who already had more than $33 million in his campaign war chest, took in an additional $8.4 million during the first six months of the year and spent around $6.5 million, leaving him with a balance of more than $35 million.

Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, faces an uphill battle against the incumbent governor.

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6:26am

Tue July 15, 2014
Politics and Government

Groups urge no vote on Tappan Zee Bridge loan

Peter Iwanowicz, with Environmental Advocates, urges a no vote by a state oversight board for a loan of clean drinking water funds to help finance the Tappan Zee Bridge
Karen DeWitt

Environmentalists are urging a key review board to vote no on a request from the Cuomo administration to help finance the rebuilding of a major Thruway bridge with a fund designed for municipal clean water projects.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration wants to use money from a revolving loan fund, designed to help local governments keep their sewer and water treatment systems up to date and their drinking water clean, to instead help pay for the massive Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

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6:25am

Mon July 14, 2014
Politics and Government

Tipped workers seek pay increase from Cuomo wage board

William Hartz

Advocates for a higher minimum wage are urging for better wages for workers who rely on tips. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised to create a committee to consider raising the minimum rate for the workers, and the groups say they have evidence that an increase is needed.

Currently, tipped workers in New York are not covered under a new law that allows the state’s minimum wage to increase to $9.00 an hour by 2016.  The minimum wage for workers like waiters and pizza deliverers who receive tips is still set at $5.00 an hour.

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6:13am

Fri July 11, 2014
Environment

Healthcare professionals against fracking urge state to look at more research

Dr. Sandra Steingraber, of Ithaca College, says more studies have come out this year than in 2011 and 2012 combined.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

A group of healthcare professionals are seeking a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department, saying they have compiled a compendium of new and ongoing research highlighting numerous health risks associated with the controversial natural gas drilling process called hydrofracking.

The health experts include a doctor, a veterinarian, and a Cornell University medical professor, who have requested a meeting with Cuomo’s acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, to go over the growing number of studies indicating numerous health risks associated with fracking.

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6:12am

Fri July 11, 2014
Politics

Astorino challenges Cuomo to eight debates

GOP gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino is calling for eight regional debates with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Ellen Abbott WRVO file photo

The Republican challenger for governor, Rob Astorino, has proposed multiple debates in locations around the state with incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor has so far not accepted any.

In a video, Astorino says the debates should be held in every region of the state between now and election day.

“I challenge Gov. Cuomo to a series of at least eight regional debates around New York state,” Astorino said.

Astorino says he agreed to five one-hour debates when he ran for his second term as Westchester County executive.

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7:13am

Thu July 10, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo primary challenger predicts she'll have 45,000 petition signatures by Thursday deadline

Zephyr Teachout and Timothy Wu announce their intent run a primary race against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (file photo)
Karen Dewitt WRVO

Zephyr Teachout, the Democratic primary challenger to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, expects to file more than 40,000 signatures late Thursday to obtain a place on the ballot for the September primary voting.

Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor, says she’ll file her petitions in the final hours before the deadline, at around nine Thursday evening.

“We have over 40,000 signatures of registered Democrats, and we expect to have 45,000 signatures,” Teachout said.

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5:30am

Thu July 10, 2014
Politics and Government

Lieutenant governor candidate Hochul keeps a low profile

Kathy Hochul joins Gov. Andrew Cuomo to announce their candidacy during the Democratic state convention in May.
Matt Ryan, New York Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate, lieutenant governor nominee Kathy Hochul, is keeping an unusually low profile during the first months of the election campaign. The lack of public campaigning by Hochul is starting to raise some questions.

Kathy Hochul, a former one-term congresswoman and former Erie County clerk, appeared with Cuomo at the state Democratic convention in May, one day after she was chosen to run as lieutenant governor.

Hochul promised the audience that she would “carry our message of hope and optimism across this great state.”

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5:30am

Wed July 9, 2014
Politics and Government

GOP candidate for governor will also run on anti-Common Core ballot line

Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, at a press conference opposing the Common Core learning standards Tuesday.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

The Republican candidate for governor in New York is petitioning to run on a new ballot line that capitalizes on public opposition to the new Common Core learning standards.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino is gathering signatures to run on a third ballot line in November. In addition to the GOP and Conservative party slots, Astorino has begun a new ballot line called Stop Common Core. He admits it could give Democrats and others who are reluctant to vote for the Republican Party another option.

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1:32am

Tue July 8, 2014
Politics and Government

Medical marijuana becomes legal in New York

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signs the medical marijuana bill into law on Monday.
Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York is now the 23rd state to allow medical marijuana, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill into law. But, it will be some time before patients will have access to the drug.

New York will now permit patients with diseases like cancer and AIDS to have access to some forms of medical marijuana. Cuomo, who in the past opposed the idea, came around  after several new regulations and restriction guarantees were written into the legislation.

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5:34am

Mon June 30, 2014
Politics

GOP senators say Democrats will neglect upstate

Senate Republicans have a new strategy in what’s shaping up to be an election battle for control of the New York state Senate. They say now that a group of breakaway Democrats is abandoning them and rejoining the rest of the Democrats, the Senate will be dominated by New York City liberals who won’t care about upstate and Long Island.

The five-member Independent Democratic Conference  announced it would break its nearly two-year-old  alliance in ruling the Senate with the Republicans, and plans to join the Democrats in a coalition government after the November elections.

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6:23am

Fri June 27, 2014
Politics and Government

Senate IDC leader says group will maintain independence

IDC leader state Sen. Jeff Klein
Karen Dewitt WRVO file photo

Senate Independent Conference Leader Jeff Klein says even though his group now plans to realign with the Democrats in the Senate, he won’t rule out working with Republicans in the future.

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6:25am

Thu June 26, 2014
Politics and Government

Two state Senate factions will form Democratic coalition

New York State Senate floor
-JvL- Flickr

Two Democratic factions in the New York State Senate say they are joining to form what could be a strong Democratic majority in the Senate, leaving Republicans, who up until now have ruled the chamber in a coalition government, out of power.

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5:39am

Wed June 25, 2014
Education

Pre-K expansion estimated to be low in September

James F Clay Flickr

Fewer than 20 percent of school districts outside of New York City have expressed interest in expanding their pre-kindergarten programs. Critics say that falls far short of the goals of a program billed in the state budget as  universal pre-K.

When the state budget was approved on March 31, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders touted funding for pre-kindergarten that they said could lead to making it universal in New York state.

Senate Co-leader Jeff Klein was one of its biggest advocates.

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6:15am

Tue June 24, 2014
Politics and Government

Reform groups urge no vote on redistricting ballot amendment

Blair Horner of NYPIRG, Susan Lerner of Common Cause, and Jesse Laymon of Effective New York present mock awards for most gerrymandered districts in the NYS legislature
Karen DeWitt

Government reform groups are beginning their push early to convince voters to reject an amendment on redistricting that will be on the state’s November ballot. They say it’s a sham that does not offer the changes it promises.

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7:27am

Mon June 23, 2014
Politics and Government

Senate sponsor of medical marijuana bill gratified by large number of 'yes' votes

After a lengthy debate of several hours, the medical marijuana bill was approved in the Senate , and now goes to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has said he'll sign it.   

Sponsor Diane Savino says she’s “gratified” by the larger than expected number of yes votes, including some surprise votes from traditionally conservative Senators.

Savino says she hopes the wide support can serve to make the vote in New York, the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana, a tipping point for the federal government to change its policies against the drug.

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3:29pm

Fri June 20, 2014
Politics and Government

State Senate passes medical marijuana bill

dank depot via Flickr

Updated, 3:50 p.m.:

After a lengthy debate of several hours, the medical marijuana bill was approved in the state Senate, and now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said he'll sign it. 

Sponsor Sen. Diane Savino says she’s "gratified" by the larger than expected number of yes votes, including some surprise votes from traditionally conservative senators.

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6:39am

Fri June 20, 2014
Health

New York to allow limited medical marijuana under agreement

Brett Levin Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature have agreed to a limited medical marijuana program for patients with cancer, AIDS, and childhood seizure disorders. It will not allow the drug to be smoked.

Cuomo, who had expressed reservations about allowing medical marijuana, says the bill will grant sick people access to the drug, while imposing limits that will prevent abuse of marijuana.

“It strikes the right balance,” Cuomo said.

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4:05pm

Thu June 19, 2014
Education

Common Core's teacher evaluations will be delayed

James F Clay Flickr

A tentative agreement has been reached by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to put off the effects of the controversial Common Core tests on teachers for another two years.

Earlier this year the Democratic governor and the legislature imposed a moratorium on the Common Core tests effects on students, now that postponement moratorium extends to teachers who received poor ratings on their annual evaluations as a result of low scores by students on the controversial new tests.

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6:15am

Thu June 19, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo, legislative leaders agree on heroin bills, still discussing medical marijuana

Medical marijuana advocates demonstrate in the hallway outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo's offices.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have agreed to a package of bills combating heroin addiction, and say they are still discussing other issues, including medical marijuana, as the legislative session draws to a close.  

Cuomo calls the measures to curb the heroin abuse epidemic his top priority for the end of the 2014 session. He says the legislation will require health insurance companies to pay for more treatments.

“Insurance companies, frankly, can’t play games and decide who gets treatment and who doesn’t get treatment,” said Cuomo.

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5:26am

Wed June 18, 2014
Politics and Government

Medical marijuana bill sponsors hold private meeting with Cuomo

Medical marijuana legislation sponsors Sen. Diane Savino and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried talk with reporters.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

Sponsors of a medical marijuana bill continued to negotiate with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the governor’s objections to many of the measure’s provisions, but say they are hopeful that a deal can be reached in the next couple of days.

State Senate Co-leader Jeff Klein is optimistic about the chances for a medical marijuana law in New York.

“My prediction is we’re going to end this session on a high,” Klein quipped after a lengthy closed-door meeting with Cuomo and the Senate and Assembly sponsors of the bill.

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7:17am

Tue June 17, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo could get a primary challenger

Zephyr Teachout and Timothy Wu announce their intent run a primary race against incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Karen Dewitt WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo might have a primary challenger. Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and activist, announced she’s collecting signatures to be on the September Democratic primary ballot.

Teachout was first promoted by the left-leaning Working Families Party as an alternative candidate to Cuomo, but in the end the minor party dropped her in favor of the governor. Teachout says she volunteered for Cuomo’s 2010 campaign for governor, but has grown disenchanted, and believes that he’s become too concerned with raising money for his political campaign.

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5:34am

Tue June 17, 2014
Politics and Government

Legislative session could end with a whimper

-JvL- Flickr

The legislative session is scheduled to end on Thursday, and many issues remain unresolved. But a low-key end of session might not matter much to New York’s top political figures.

The chances of passage for several key issues promoted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including a Women’s Equality Act and public campaign finance appear dim, due to opposition from Senate Republicans.

The end-of-session gridlock grew worse after  Cuomo pledged to the left leaning Working Families Party that he would work to end the GOP’s partial control in the Senate and replace them with Democrats.

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5:45am

Tue June 10, 2014
Politics and Government

Cuomo downplays chances of end-of-session agreements

Gov. Andrew Cuomo. (file photo)
Zack Seward WXXI

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is downplaying the chances of any major agreements before the legislative session ends later this month.

The governor, who has already vowed to replace the current Senate leadership coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, says he does not expect any deals on big ticket issues before the legislature leaves for the summer.

“We have some clean up items,” Cuomo said. “I don’t expect us to do any major initiatives.”

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