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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Oliver Mallich / Flickr

Stepped up security at railroad and other mass transit systems was announced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who say it’s absolutely necessary, but no there’s specific terror threat.

The governors of New York and New Jersey say they are reacting to the increasingly active terrorists in the Middle East, and stepped up military activity by the United States, including air strikes.

NYS Legislative Task Force on Demographic Research and Reapportionment

Reform groups are split over the merits of a November ballot item to change the way new legislative and congressional districts are drawn in New York.

Some groups see the amendment as an opportunity to finally end rampant gerrymandering of Senate and Assembly districts in New York.  Others fear it would just solidify legislative control of a process that allows legislative leaders to draw districts that suit their own political interests.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

State Democrats say their prime strategy to motivate voters this fall will be to paint Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Republican opponent as an ultra-conservative who has a negative view about New York.  

Kathy Hochul, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, went on the attack against Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino, saying the GOP opponent and his running mate are too conservative and his portrayal of the state as economically troubled and dysfunctional is too pessimistic.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

The Republican candidate for governor temporarily upstaged incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, when Rob Astorino appeared unexpectedly at the Business Council of New York State's annual meeting and attempted to talk to the governor.

Astorino addressed the Business Council Thursday night, in a speech scheduled months ago. Cuomo did not commit to speak to the group at its annual meeting on Lake George until the conference had already started, and Cuomo chose a Friday morning time slot.  

Rob Astorino for Governor

Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino received a mostly polite reception from the state’s biggest business lobby at their annual meeting in Lake George.

New York State Board of Elections

A judge has ruled that the wording on a November ballot item making changes to New York‘s redistricting process is biased and must be altered before Election Day.

The Supreme Court judge ruled that language describing a new board created to oversee redistricting in New York as independent is misleading and must be struck from the amendment’s description.

Gino Geruntino / WRVO

This election season seems to feature more than the usual amount of negative ads, with television spots painting opponents in a dark light. But an ad that criticized a candidate’s choice of football team may have backfired when controversy arose over a picture that was altered to cut out his son.

Viewers of the most recent Buffalo Bills game saw an ad, sponsored by Erie County Democrats, that criticized Republican candidate Rob Astorino for being a Miami Dolphins fan.

Doug Kerr / Flickr

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has rejected a plan by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to raid the state’s clean water fund to help pay for the New York Thruway’s Tappan Zee bridge replacement.

Matt Richmond / WSKG

The issue of hydrofracking played a role in the recent Democratic primary for governor in New York, and those who oppose the gas drilling process hope it will influence the general election, as well.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, once on a fast track to begin the natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing in New York, has put his decision on hold while his administration is conducting a health review that began two years ago. Cuomo, asked about the future of fracking in the state one day after the Democratic primary, said he’s still reserving judgment.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

The Green Party candidate for governor wants to be included in any upcoming debates. Howie Hawkins says he is the only candidate left in the race to represent the state’s progressives.

Hawkins, a Syracuse-area UPS worker and Teamsters union member, says by any reasonable standard he should be included in any debates for the governor’s race that feature major party candidates, Democratic incumbent Andrew Cuomo and Republican Rob Astorino.

Wallyg / via Flickr

The primaries are over and the focus now shifts to the general elections, which are a little over seven weeks away. Incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces Republican challenger Rob Astorino.

Cuomo made a rare campaign-style appearance in Buffalo with running mate Kathy Hochul just after winning the Democratic primary with 60 percent of the vote. Without mentioning him by name, he portrayed Republican opponent Rob Astorino as a hyper-conservative who was out of touch with New Yorkers.

Matt Ryan, New York Now

After winning Tuesday’s Democratic primary, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is now poised to run strongly against his Republican challenger, Rob Astorino. But will he have any lingering problems after more than one-third of primary voters rejected him for an obscure law professor?

Cuomo’s challenger, Fordham Law School Professor Zephyr Teachout, managed to win over one-third of the vote against the incumbent governor, despite Cuomo’s multi-million dollar war chest and near unanimous support from the state’s Democratic political establishment, from Hillary Clinton to local mayors.

Jenna Flanagan/Innovation Trail

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his running mate Kathy Hochul beat off a challenge from two law school professors in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. But, challenger Zephyr Teachout won over one-third of the vote, opening  a potential weakness for the incumbent governor among progressive voters.

MemphisCVB / Flickr

Democratic candidates for governor and lieutenant governor cast their ballots Tuesday, and urged others to vote as well.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is expected to win the primary, cast his ballot near his home in Westchester.

“I encourage people to vote,” Cuomo said. “You have no right to complain about who is in the office if you don’t actually exercise the franchise and go out and vote.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo / Flickr

Tuesday is primary day in New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo faces a challenge from Democrat Zephyr Teachout, which he is expected to easily win, but the governor could face a headache when it comes to the race for his running mate for lieutenant governor.

Cuomo, known as a clever strategist who carefully maps out his political future, did not anticipate a primary challenge from obscure Fordham Law School professor Zephyr Teachout.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is non-committal about whether he’ll debate his Democratic and Republican opponents in the fall elections.

Cuomo, who spoke after an early morning stop at the New York State Fair in Syracuse, would not say whether he’ll debate Republican candidate for governor Rob Astorino, or Democratic primary opponent Zephyr Teachout.

“I’ll leave that to the campaigns to talk through,” Cuomo said.

The governor was asked what he meant by the statement.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

The Republican challenger in the race for New York attorney general has begun airing TV ads, and is making an issue of incumbent Eric Schneiderman’s role in a controversial ethics commission.

John Cahill, the Republican candidate for attorney general, has made several stops around the state in recent days, focusing on the controversial Moreland Act Commission on corruption.

Cahill says there are unanswered questions about how deeply involved current Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was with the commission. The commissions’s actions are now under federal investigation.

Diana Robinson / Flickr

A Quinnipiac University poll shows the race for governor is virtually unchanged since the spring, with incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo far ahead of his Republican and Democratic challengers. 

The favorable ratings for Cuomo come after weeks of negative news stories about the governor’s alleged interference in an ethics panel and an ongoing federal investigation.

The Quinnipiac poll is the third in recent weeks that show the governor’s race in New York remains stagnant, with Cuomo ahead of Republican challenger Rob Astorino by nearly 25 percentage points.

unshackleupstate.com

An upstate pro business group is out with ratings for the Senate and Assembly, and finds, not surprisingly, that more liberal Democrats are at odds with the group’s agenda than conservative leaning Republicans. Unshackle Upstate says that could have implications for the group’s interests if Democrats take over the Senate in November.

Columbia City Blog / Flickr

Supporters of a November ballot amendment on redistricting say it will help prevent rampant partisan Gerrymandering when the next district lines are drawn in the Senate and the Assembly. The groups Citizens Union and League of Women Voters are making voters aware of the amendment and giving them reasons why voters should approve the measure.
 

Sean MacEntee / Flickr

New York voters will decide in November whether the state should borrow $2 billion for new technology, including iPads, in school classrooms. Teachers and school administrators who could benefit from the funds say they are supportive, but want to see more details.

The Bond Act, as it reads on the November ballot, would provide access to classroom technology and high-speed Internet connections, as well as offer funds to build more pre-kindergarten classrooms and replace the trailers that some overcrowded schools in New York City have been using to teach students.

timlewisnm / Flickr

New York’s school children made incremental progress in math scores, but no gains in English tests, during the second year of Common Core-related exams. Education officials say overall, only around one-third of students actually passed the tests.

In math tests administered to third through eighth graders, just 35.8 percent statewide were considered to meet or exceed the new Common Core standards.

Karen DeWitt

Government reform groups are split over whether an amendment on the November ballot to change the way legislative district lines are drawn is an improvement, or will only make gerrymandering worse.

On November 4, voters in New York will decide whether they want to amend the state’s constitution to change the way Senate and Assembly lines are drawn.

Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

A member of a government reform group says it’s ok if Governor Cuomo uses his campaign coffers to finance this week’s trip to Israel if the visit is for political, rather than government purposes.

Blair Horner, with the New York Public Interest Research Group, says it’s preferable for Governor Cuomo to use funds from his $35 million dollar campaign fund to pay for his visit to Israel than for state taxpayers to foot the bill.  Horner says by using the campaign money, Cuomo is also signaling that the trip is more of a political event than official government business.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration and the legislature are spending around $1.3 million this year in payments to private law firms, and the public is paying for it, says a fiscally conservative study center.

The Empire Center analyzed reports filed on line by the legislature, and found that the state Assembly paid over $650,000 to outside attorneys, while the state Senate gave a private law firm over $400,000 between October of 2013 and March of 2014.

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

Education funding advocates say they have a use for the recently announced $4.2 billion state surplus. They say schools in New York, particularly the state’s poorest schools, could really use the money.

The Alliance for Quality Education’s Billy Easton says New York has fallen far behind in carrying out an order issued eight years ago form the state’s highest court saying schools, particularly the poorest districts,  deserve billions of dollars more in state funding each year.

“This is money that is due to schools that has never been paid,” Easton said.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

The only statewide candidate participating in the pilot public campaign finance program says it’s been slow going. But Republican comptroller candidate Bob Antonacci expects to collect enough individual donors to qualify for the state's matching funds.

Antonacci has to convince 2,000 people to donate small amounts of money to his campaign by September 10, and raise $200,000 from them, in order to qualify for a grant that will give him six times the amount of money he raises by that date.

“It has been tedious at times,” Antonacci admits. “It’s been a lot of work.”

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

For the first time in several years, New York state has a surplus of between $3 billion and $4 billion. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’s still looking at options on how best to use it.

The state has recently been the beneficiary of a windfall from major lawsuit settlements with several banks and insurance companies. After years of running a debt or breaking even, Cuomo says New York now has more than $4 billion additional dollars.

The governor says he’s still thinking about the best use for the money.

Zack Seward / WXXI

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is using money from his $35 million campaign war chest to pay for a criminal defense lawyer in a federal probe of his office. Critics say while it’s legal to do so, it’s not an appropriate use of campaign money.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Details about alleged interference in an ethics probe by Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s aides are leaking out daily, and most newspapers have run critical editorials. But it remains to be seen how deeply the controversy will affect the race for governor, where Cuomo is still the front runner by a wide margin.  

There’s been a steady drip of bad news for the governor and his administration since a New York Times in depth story about potential interference by top Cuomo aides in a corruption commission investigation

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