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.

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Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

It’s just over three weeks until the legislative session is scheduled to end, and hopes for reform are fading, during an unprecedented level of corruption in state government.

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Almost 98 percent of school budgets were approved in statewide voting Tuesday, including the majority of school districts asking for overrides of the state’s mandatory property tax cap.

Only a small number of districts attempted to get the 60 percent supermajority they need to override the tax cap and increase their spending. But of those 36 districts, more than three-quarters succeeded.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says a key vote on the next installment of the Buffalo Billion project is merely postponed, not canceled, and he denies that he’s feeling defensive about the widening federal probe of his administration’s economic development projects.

Thomas Favre-Bulle / via Flickr

School budget votes and school board elections are being held across the state Tuesday, and the New York State School Boards Association says more schools are seeking to convince voters to override the state’s tax cap.

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With his former top aide facing a federal probe for potential conflicts of interest for consulting work, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said twice now that he did not know what the former close associate of the Cuomo family was up to. Joe Percoco left state service earlier this year for a job at Madison Square Garden.

But it turns out that the governor had not one, but two ways to know if his current or former top aides have any business deals that could present an ethical conflict.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News File Photo

Another once-powerful New York state politician has been sentenced to prison.

In federal court Thursday, Dean Skelos received five years for corruption; his son, Adam, got a 6½-year sentence.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News File Photo

Former Senate Leader Dean Skelos was sentenced to five years in prison and ordered to pay over $334,000 in restitution after his conviction on corruption charges. His son Adam got 6 ½ years.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Every day for the past two weeks, news reports have focused on a federal probe of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration. It comes as both former leaders of the legislature are being sentenced to prison for corruption. Despite that, Cuomo and legislative leaders say they are trying to achieve some agenda items in the closing weeks of the legislative session.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Advocates for farm workers are trying a new route to gain the right to form a union and be allowed benefits afforded to other laborers in New York. They are suing the state government. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he agrees with the farmworkers and won’t be defending the law in court.

For decades, migrant farmworkers and their advocates have tried to get a law passed to place the laborers under the protection of the state’s labor laws, giving them the right to form unions, and collectively bargain with their farmer employers for better working conditions.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

It’s been reported that subpoenas from the U.S. attorney in a federal probe of the Cuomo administration cover several of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top staff and over two dozen companies doing business with the state. But Cuomo says his understanding is that the investigation focuses on just two people, who he has cut ties with.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

State Senate Republicans in the Elections Committee cast a vote on closing a campaign finance loophole, which has played a role in recent corruption trials of the former leaders of the legislature. But the act could doom the measure for the 2016 legislative session.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Opponents of a planned fracked gas power plant in the Hudson Valley say they are hoping the U.S. attorney will investigate decisions made in the permitting process for the plan, now that it’s been revealed that the wife of a former top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo took payments from the lead engineering firm in the project, and that her husband is the subject of a federal probe.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s explanation of some of the circumstances of a U.S. attorney’s probe into his administration has left some answered questions.

Cuomo offered a brief explanation of his former top aide’s involvement in a scandal now encompassing his administration, saying the actions of Joe Percoco were perfectly legitimate. The governor says he knew that when Percoco left his $156,000-a-year job to manage Cuomo’s 2014 reelection campaign, that Percoco would also work for private clients, but that’s all he knew about the situation.

azipaybarah / Flickr

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison by a federal judge Tuesday.

Over 100 family members, constituents and lobbyists wrote letters on behalf of the disgraced former Assembly speaker, Silver himself apologized in a letter, and his lawyers pleaded for mercy. Despite that, the judge, in addition to the prison time, ordered Silver to pay back $5 million he gained from illegal kickback schemes, as well as a $1.75 million fine.

Silver will be allowed to keep his public pension, along with an apartment and a house in the Catskills.

Matt Ryan / New York Now File Photo

Former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to 12 years in prison and told by a federal judge that he must give back $5 million that he gained from illegal kickback schemes, as well a pay another $1.75 million in fines.

Over 100 family members, constituents and lobbyists wrote letters on behalf of the disgraced former Assembly speaker, and the disgraced former speaker and his lawyers pleaded for mercy.

Dick Dadey, with the reform group Citizens Union, who waited outside the courtroom to hear the sentence, says it’s just desserts for what Silver did.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo spoke for the first time since news broke that his former close associate is under federal investigation for possibly taking illegal payments from developers working on state economic development projects.

Former top aide Joe Percoco left his state job for several months in 2014 when he managed Cuomo’s reelection campaign. Cuomo says  Percoco told him that he might do some other consulting work while he was off the state payroll, but Percoco did not tell him who the clients were and the governor said he did not ask.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The New York State Legislature has been on a three-week break. In their absence, federal investigations into aides close to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio have intensified, spurring even more calls for reform. Also, both former leaders of the legislature will be sentenced in the next few days on multiple felony convictions.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Over the weekend, news broke that top aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo are being probed by the U.S. attorney in connection with the Buffalo Billion economic development project.

The Buffalo Billion project is the centerpiece of Cuomo’s efforts to reverse decades of economic decline in New York’s second largest city. It’s been credited with helping spur jobs and new industries, including in high tech and the medical field.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

Government reform groups say you can add one more item to the long list of reforms that they believe are needed in Albany. They say limits are needed on campaign contributions to county political committees. The committees collection and distribution of money factor into a growing criminal case against New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration, and upstate Senate races in 2014.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News File Photo

In the past week, two major natural gas pipelines have been scrapped in New York. A third, which would expand a line that is near the Indian Point Nuclear Power plant, is still scheduled, but opponents are putting pressure on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to use his persuasive powers with the federal government to stop the expansion.

Opponents of new pipelines carrying natural gas extracted from hydrofracking have had a good week.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

New York’s restrictive voter access rules came under scrutiny during Tuesday’s presidential primary. And some are saying there’s a need for changes.

governorandrewcuomo / via Flickr

Tuesday is not only New York’s presidential primary, it also the day for two special elections to replace the disgraced former leaders of the legislature who lost their seats after being convicted on multiple felony corruption charges.

One of the races is to replace former Senate Leader Dean Skelos, a Republican who is now facing a lengthy prison term on corruption convictions.  

All three Republican presidential candidates spoke at the state GOP dinner Thursday night.

Trump spent much of his speech recounting his real estate deals in New York City, saying he built the very hotel where the event was held -- the Hyatt at Grand Central Station.

He also defended New York values as embodied after 9/11 when New Yorkers displayed courage and selflessness.

“These are the values that we need to make America great again,” Trump told the audience. “We need these values to bring America together again, and the heal America’s wounds.”

The New York State Republican Party’s annual dinner Thursday evening will feature all three GOP presidential candidates, likely the only time they will all be together in one place before Tuesday’s primary.

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and John Kasich are all due at the event in New York City, though they will all be speaking separately, says Republican State Party Chair Ed Cox.

Cox, who is remaining neutral in the race, says the intense focus on New York can only be good overall for party participation and voter turnout.

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A poll from Siena College finds that Bernie Sanders has narrowed the gap with Hillary Clinton in the New York presidential primary race, but Clinton leads in key voting groups.

The poll finds Clinton ten points ahead of Sanders, at 52 percent to 42 percent, but Clinton is ahead in voter-rich New York City and the surrounding suburbs. The two are even in upstate, but only around one-quarter of total Democratic voters live there.

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO News File Photo

A new poll finds that Bernie Sanders has narrowed the gap with Hillary Clinton among likely Democratic voters in the New York residential primary race, but Clinton leads in key voting regions.

The Siena College poll finds that while 52 percent of Democrats would vote for Hillary Clinton, compared to 42 percent for Bernie Sanders, Clinton is ahead in voter-rich New York City and surrounding suburbs. The two are even in upstate, but that represents just around one-quarter of total Democratic voters. Siena’s Steve Greenberg says there’s also an age divide between the two candidates.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Proponents of New York’s new medical marijuana law say so far, it’s barely functioning, and they say major revisions are necessary to allow more than just a tiny number of patients to benefit.

New York’s limited medical marijuana began in January, but advocates and patients say it has not worked out as well as they hoped. They say strict limits on diseases that are eligible for treatment, no insurance coverage, and near complete lack of doctors who have undergone the required training and will prescribe the medicine has left them frustrated.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke at a packed arena in Albany Monday night, where he was interrupted by protesters numerous times.

Marguerite Jones / WSKG News

As he began a two-day campaign swing through upstate New York, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders spoke to a very enthusiastic crowd of around 3,000 at an armory in Albany. He got some of the biggest cheers when he called for nationwide ban on hydrofracking.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

A quirk in the newly-enacted minimum wage increase could mean that in upstate New York by the early 2020s, fast food workers could be paid significantly more than other low wage jobs, like home health care workers or grocery store cashiers.

In the state budget, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature approved a multi-step plan to increase the minimum wage to $15 in New York City and its suburbs, and to $12.50 in the next five years for the rest of the state.

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