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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David Shankbone / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is coping with the breast cancer diagnosis and impending double mastectomy surgery of his long time partner, and cooking show celebrity Sandra Lee. In a statement, Cuomo said he expects to take some personal time off to support her through her treatment.

nysenate.gov

Senate Leader Dean Skelos has resigned his post, over a corruption scandal, and Republicans have elected Sen. John Flanagan, currently chairman of the Education Committee to be his successor.

Flanagan, a Republican from Long Island, a GOP stronghold in the Senate, became the new leader of the Senate with a unanimous floor vote from his Republican conference.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News File Photo

State Senate Republicans have been huddling behind closed doors, trying to resolve a leadership crisis now that Majority Leader Dean Skelos has lost the support of his GOP members, after being charged with six federal counts of corruption.

Sen. John DeFrancisco, a Syracuse-area Republican who’s been running to replace Skelos, says first, the leader would have to resign, and that is not yet guaranteed.  

“I have not talked to Dean; not anybody that I’ve talked to has a clear answer on that,” DeFrancisco said.

Kramchang / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, at a large union rally in New York City’s Union Square to raise the minimum wage, called out fast food chains McDonalds and Burger King by name and accused them of corporate greed for under-paying workers.

Cuomo, in an animated speech, says fast food chains make huge profits while relying on taxpayers subsidies, like food stamps, to make up for the low pay they give their workers.

The governor says he’ll bypass the legislature and create a state board to examine increasing the state's minimum wage for fast food workers.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Disagreements that have roiled the state’s education community in the wake of new teacher evaluation laws approved by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature as part of the budget were highlighted at a day long summit called by education officials.

Principals, teachers and school boards have objected to the tight deadline in the law, as well as the greater reliance on standardized tests, a component that Cuomo has insisted upon.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his first public comments since the leader of the New York State Senate was charged in an extortion and bribery scheme, says if true, he finds the accusations “disturbing.”

Cuomo, speaking at an event in Syracuse, commented for the first time since Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos was charged with six counts of public corruption.

Matt Ryan / WMHT

Major newspapers in New York state have posted editorials calling for Senate Leader Dean Skelos to resign after the senator and his son were accused of running a corruption scam. But so far, Skelos is hanging on and Republicans are trying hard to carry on business as usual.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, who turned himself in to federal authorities on corruption charges Monday, will remain as the head of the Senate, his republican members announced after a more than three hour closed door meeting Monday night.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News file photo

The leader of the New York State Senate, Dean Skelos, surrendered to federal authorities Monday morning and was charged with six counts of corruption, including bribery and extortion, in connection with an alleged scheme that used his political position to enrich himself and his son.

Matt Ryan / New York Now

 

It may be three years until the next statewide election, but potential candidates in New York State are already staking out their positions. Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman both say they are content with their jobs, and would like to keep them longer.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The annual state report on lobbying is out, and it finds that $226 million was spent on influencing government leaders, with the largest amount from education groups.

It’s not a surprise that education entities spent the most money on lobbying than any other group in 2014, just as controversy over the new Common Core standards and the related standardized tests reached a peak.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced a blue print for ending the AIDs epidemic in New York by 2020.

Speaking before an enthusiastic audience outside  the LGBT Community Center in Greenwich Village , Cuomo says it’s possible to make AIDS, which has killed an estimated 153,000 New Yorkers,  a disease of the past.

“Like tuberculosis, and measles and polio,” Cuomo said, to applause.

The recommendations include better testing and screening and wider distribution of drug treatments.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The New York State legislature’s Black, Hispanic and Asians Caucus is reacting to events in Baltimore and is calling for swift action on a package of criminal justice reforms that have been stalled in the state Senate.

The caucus members say they’ve grown weary of  incidents where African Americans die after encounters with police.  Assemblyman Michaela Blake represents portions of the Bronx.

“Baltimore is happening in the Bronx, “ Blake said. “It can happen anywhere.”

Blake says the young people involved in the riots are not thugs or criminals.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO News file photo

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says Assemblyman William Scarborough’s expected decision to plead guilty to illegally claiming over $40,000 in travel expenses is “the right thing to do.”   Schneiderman’s office, along with the New York State Comptroller, originally launched the investigation that led to the charges by the U.S. Attorney for New York’s Northern district.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The families of people killed in encounters with police met with Gov. Andrew Cuomo Tuesday. They say the governor promised them he would issue an executive order to name a special prosecutor to investigate the deaths of their relatives, but only if the legislature does not approve Cuomo’s plan to create an independent monitor to look at such incidents.

Gwen Carr, the mother of Eric Garner, who died after police on Staten Island put him in a chokehold, says Cuomo gave them time to speak.

timlewisnm / Flickr

There’s growing support in the state legislature to address controversial aspects of the state’s Common Core learning standards and related testing.

More students across New York opted out of the state’s math tests -- over 150,000 students -- according to an anti-Common Core group that’s encouraged students to skip. It follows the boycott by tens of thousands of students of the third through eighth grade English tests earlier in April.  

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

Democrats in the New York State Senate are attempting to close a loophole in the state’s campaign finance laws, while a new poll finds New Yorkers want lawmakers to take more steps to quell corruption.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

A new Siena College poll finds that half of New Yorkers support a growing movement for parents to opt their children out of state standardized tests. As many as 20 percent boycotted the third through eighth grade math and English exams given earlier in April.

Melinda Shelton / Flickr

Less than a month after it was enacted, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new teacher evaluation plan seems to be in jeopardy, with the Regents chancellor calling for a year’s delay and a key senator saying the legislature needs to revisit the issue.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

Earth Day 2015 is also the day the New York State Assembly began its transition to a paperless system. Assemblymembers have been given iPads to read bills electronically, and supporters say it will save millions of dollars, and trees.

Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle announced the change on the Assembly floor.

“Today we begin officially with tablets,” Morelle said.

Getting rid of the piles of paper that clutter members’ desks each day required a Constitutional Amendment, which voters approved last fall. 

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News File Photo

The final stretch of the New York state legislative session began as more accusations arose about potential wrongdoing by top legislative leaders.

The session began with a closed door meeting by Senate Republicans, the first time that the majority party members met together since the publication of a New York Times report that says federal prosecutors are investigating Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos, and his son, for possible corruption.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

The head of the state’s largest teachers union predicts that the legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo will have to revisit new teacher evaluation laws passed as part of the state budget, now that almost one fifth of students have opted out of the tests.

New York State United Teacher’s President Karen Magee says the boycott of the third through eighth grade English tests by nearly 20 percent of New York’s students will undermine the new teacher evaluation system that relies more heavily on the controversial standardized tests.  

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

The New York state legislature returns for the second half of the legislative session, once again under a cloud of corruption, and with numerous unsettled issues.

The session begins Tuesday, after the spring break, and this time it’s the leader of the Senate who is the focus of a federal corruption probe. State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos confirmed that he’s the target of an investigation, after The New York Times reported that U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara has convened a grand jury that is looking into some of the senator’s business dealings, as well as those of his son.

NY Assembly Video (file)

The recently completed state budget was the first real test of the new Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie’s leadership, who became the leader of that house in early February. 

By the time the state budget was voted on,  Heastie, the 47-year-old accountant and former budget analyst from the Bronx, elected to the Assembly in 2000, had  been in his new job for less than two months .

biologycorner / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature approved some significant changes to the state’s education system and how teachers are evaluated going forward. But, before those policies can be implemented, the new system faces a big test -- literally -- later this month.

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

The New York legislature completed an almost on time budget, around 3 a.m. on the first day of the state’s fiscal year.

One of the final pieces to come together was an ethics reform package, which will provide greater disclosure of lawmaker’s outside income.

But critics say it does not go far enough.

The ethics changes would deny pensions for lawmakers convicted of serious crimes. The provision requires a constitutional amendment. 

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers finalized deals on education and ethics and passed the budget early Wednesday.

Legislators began passing the final budget bills in the late afternoon, with only a few hours left until the deadline. The Senate passed the spending plan before the midnight deadline, while the Assembly finished voting just before 3 a.m. Wednesday.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Even before the final details of the education changes in the budget are revealed, teachers’ unions are already claiming partial victory in their war of words with Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Chris Nelson / via Flickr

State lawmakers have not yet finished the budget, but they are already getting blowback from a provision that would give a tax break to owners of luxury yachts.

The budget includes a sales tax break for purchases of boats worth more than $230,000, as well as for private airplanes. That angers Ron Deutsch, of Fiscal Policy Institute,  a union backed think tank that backs Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to give a property tax break for middle and working class homeowners who pay too much of their income on taxes.

Governor Andrew Cuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo began the budget season with an ambitious agenda than included a wide array of items that he tied to the budget, including raising the minimum wage, the Dream Act, and reforming the state’s grand jury process. In the end, the governor was forced to retrench on nearly every measure.

Cuomo spent a week in January rolling out his ambitious budget agenda, which contained plans for a new criminal justice system for teens who commit serious crimes and a major upstate economic development program. 

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