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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Cuomo criticized for 90-day email deletion policy

Mar 10, 2015
stgermh / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been getting some bipartisan criticism from state lawmakers over an email policy that erases all electronic correspondence of state employees after 90 days.

The policy to delete the emails of state employees after three months has been in place for some time, but is only now being enforced. It was revealed during a recent budget hearing, where Cuomo’s Chief Information Officer Maggie Miller testified before skeptical state lawmakers .

stgermh / Flickr

The New York state budget might end up in court under some potential scenarios, as state lawmakers are discussing possible legal action against Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget, and his proposal to link a number of unrelated items, like ethics reform and education changes, to the spending plan.

Cuomo’s budget includes unrelated topics like ethics reform, as well as numerous education policy changes that he’s linked to school aid increases.  And the governor says he’ll hold up the budget past the due date if legislators don’t agree.  

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

It was the charter schools’ turn to rally at the state Capitol Wednesday in support of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to allow 100 more charter schools in New York.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is taking credit for the state budget’s turnaround from huge gaps to healthy surpluses, but a watchdog group says Cuomo is relying on future funds that have not yet materialized.

Cuomo often lists his achievements as governor when he gives speeches. He likes to recount how he turned the state’s finances around, as he did in his inaugural address earlier this year.

“We turned a $10 billion deficit into a $5 billion surplus,” Cuomo said then.

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

Hundreds of teachers are rallied at the state Capitol late Monday, saying they are calling out Gov. Andrew Cuomo for what they say is his anti-public school agenda.

The teachers, including New York State United Teachers Union Vice President Andy Pallotta, say Cuomo has declared a war on students, parents, and teachers, and is advancing a “test and punish” agenda.

“He has no respect for public education,” Pallotta shouted, as the crowd cheered.

Colleen / via Flickr

Teachers have been holding rallies all around the state protesting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education proposals, and hundreds are expected to converge on the Capitol late Monday to protest over reliance on standardized tests, and other issues. Cuomo has called the teachers unions part of a “bloated bureaucracy” that he says needs to be broken. He wants teacher performance reviews to rely more on standardized test results, and he’d like 100 more charter schools in New York.

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

Newly-elected Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie made clear one of his top priorities in his first news conference, where he called for passage of the Dream Act, which would offer college aid to children of undocumented immigrants.

Heastie says when it comes to helping young New Yorkers with paying for college, there’s a double standard.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Budget talks began Wednesday, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo met behind closed doors with legislative leaders to discuss school aid, economic development proposals and ethics reform. Cuomo’s push to reform practices in the legislature comes at a time when his nearly $1 million book deal is coming under closer scrutiny.
 

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly threatened to hold up the state budget over ethics reform and other issues, like education policy.

Now, a poll finds that voters would rather that the budget be on time. The spending plan is due March 31 and lawmakers return to Albany Wednesday to begin several weeks of negotiations.

shawnzrossi / Flickr

A state wage board has agreed to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers from $5.00 to $7.50 an hour. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the change at a rally with union leaders.

Cuomo, speaking to the union members, renewed his call to raise the state’s minimum wage for non-tipped workers to $10.50 an hour in the state, and $11.50 in New York City. Cuomo says businesses are making record profits .

“Business is doing well, God bless them,” Cuomo said. “But it is time that they share. We are looking at a polarization of income in this country like we’ve never seen before.”

Wallyg / via Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has outlined his plan for greater transparency of state lawmakers’ outside income, and has made it part of his budget proposal. Good government groups say they wish he had gone farther.

J. Stephen Conn / Flickr

Once the President’s Day week-long break is finished, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature will have to start discussing the 2015 budget.  But the traditional style of budget making in New York, known as “Three Men in a Room,” is coming under criticism, by among others, the U.S. Attorney currently investigating corruption at the Capitol. Some are wondering whether it’s time to end the secretive practice.

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For the first time in months, the New York’s highest court has all seven judges on the bench, now that the state Senate has confirmed Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s two newest choices on the court.

The confirmation of Judge Eugene Fahey and Judge Leslie Stein to the Court of Appeals sailed through the Senate, after Cuomo put off announcing his choices, and the Senate delayed scheduling hearings, despite state laws requiring that vacancies on the court be filled promptly.

stgermh / Flickr

Supporters of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s education tax credit were at the Capitol to persuade lawmakers that the credit, which would benefit donors to private and charter schools, should be approved as part of the state budget.

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

 

Republicans in the New York State Senate are in talks with Gov. Andrew Cuomo about legislative ethics reforms as demands for changes mount after the recent arrest of the former Assembly speaker.

Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island said Tuesday that the goal of the negotiations with Cuomo is "full transparency and strong ethics laws" modeled on effective laws in other states.

The debate hinges on possible limits on the income lawmakers can make from outside jobs - an idea popular with Democrats but opposed by Republicans.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Democrats in the New York State Senate are pushing for some reforms that directly address problems that led to the arrest and resignation of the Assembly speaker. They want to virtually ban all outside income for lawmakers.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

With less than two months before the state budget is due, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and education groups remain at odds, with the state teacher’s union calling the fight a “war,” and Cuomo calling the teachers and their allies a bloated bureaucracy.

 New York State United Teachers, the state’s largest teachers union, uses military terms to describe the escalating argument with Cuomo. In a video, NYSUT President Karen Magee says it’s the governor who has declared war on the union and the entire profession of teaching.

Two long-running corruption and sexual harassment cases in the legislature reached their conclusion Thursday. 

Two sexual harassment victims of former Assemblyman Vito Lopez have settled their case, will receive  $580,000 in restitution. Most of that money will be come from taxpayers, with Lopez paying around $35,000.

governorandrewcuomo / via Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is pushing his latest plan for ethics reform in appearances all around the state, following the arrest of the former Assembly speaker on corruption charges. But questions remain whether he will have any more success this time than a deal last year that ended in the shuttering of a corruption commission. Cuomo is once again crusading for stronger ethics laws, now that former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, charged with running a massive corruption scheme, has resigned from his post and been replaced.

stgermh / Flickr

Carl Heastie was elected unanimously by Democrats in the Assembly to be the next speaker, less than two weeks after former Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested and charged with running a massive multi-million dollar corruption scheme.

Heastie, the first African-American speaker in the Assembly’s 237 year history, gave a brief speech to the chamber, where he focused on moving on from the scandal brought on the Assembly by his predecessor.

Wallyg / via Flickr

The New York State Assembly is poised to elect Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie as the next speaker, as Sheldon Silver resigned in disgrace over serious corruption charges.  Meanwhile, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is threatening to hold up the state budget if lawmakers don’t agree to a number of key reforms.

Assembly Majority Joe Morelle confirms that Democrats, meeting behind closed doors, have decided unanimously that Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie will be the next speaker.

-JvL- / Flickr

The race to replace disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver seems all but over, with the Bronx Assemblyman Carl Heastie amassing the most support. Silver’s resignation is effective at midnight Monday, and a vote for the new speaker could be held as early as next week.

Morelle announced on Friday that he would drop out of the race and back Heastie. Morelle, while at home in the Rochester area this weekend, told reporters that Heastie is a close friend and that that the two of them had kept in close contact throughout the process.

-JvL- / Flickr

Maneuvering for the next speaker of the state Assembly is going on largely behind the scenes and government reform groups say that’s the wrong way to begin a new era in what’s been called the people’s house. They’ve asked the announced candidates to commit to an open process, and want an answer before the weekend.

-JvL- / Flickr

The legislature continued about its business in Albany Wednesday, despite the leadership crisis in the Assembly. Lawmakers held the first in a series of public budget hearings. Meanwhile, several Assembly members officially declared their candidacy to succeed Speaker Sheldon Silver, who will leave the office on Monday.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver will end his long reign as the head of the Assembly on Monday, say the Democratic members of the Assembly who announced they will hold a new election for speaker on Feb. 10.

After two long days of closed door meetings, as Assembly Democrats reacted to the mounting fallout from Silver’s arrest on federal corruption charges, the Democrats now say Silver will leave his post.

But Assembly Majority Leader Joe Morelle, who will serve as interim speaker for about a week, was cryptic when describing how the speaker will actually exit.  

governorandrewcuomo / via Flickr

Updated, 7:46 p.m.

Democrats in the state Assembly have emerged from two days of closed door discussions on whether, then how, to remove and replace the leader of their conference, who has been charged with corruption.

Assemblyman Joe Morelle, the majority leader from Rochester, told reporters Tuesday evening that Sheldon Silver will be removed from his post.

"On Monday, there will be a vacancy in the office of speaker," he said.

azipaybarah / Flickr

Update: 9:10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 27 --

Assembly Democrats are planning to huddle behind closed doors again in Albany today, trying to decide their next move.

Azi Paybarah / via Flickr

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is expected to present a plan to Assembly Democrats Monday, in which he would temporarily relinquish his power as Speaker to a small group of Assembly Democrats.  

azipaybarah / Flickr

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was arrested Thursday morning and $3.8 million in eight different bank accounts held by Silver have been frozen, as federal prosecutors accuse the speaker of running two fraudulent and corrupt schemes.

Silver was released on $200,000 bail Thursday afternoon.

azipaybarah / Flickr

Updated, 11:45 a.m.:

The Democratic Speaker of the New York State Assembly was arrested early Thursday morning by federal officials on corruption charges.

The investigation and pending arrest was first reported by The New York Times. It was later confirmed by the FBI. 

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