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.

Ways to Connect

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When the state legislative session ended on June 21, lawmakers left behind a lot of unfinished business, including a failure to act on ethics reform proposals made in light of the economic development scandal in the Cuomo administration. 

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News File Photo

The New York State Education Department hearing on whether Carl Paladino should be removed from the Buffalo Board of Education for leaking private information from the board's executive sessions could conclude as early as Tuesday. On Monday, day three of the proceedings, the petitioners seeking Paladino's removal rested their case. And the Buffalo businessman and former Republican gubernatorial candidate's defense began.

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Gov. Cuomo says the state legislature fell down on the job by leaving town without passing an extension of mayoral control for the New York City schools, and he has not ruled out calling them back for a special session.

Cuomo says by not voting to extend the Bill de Blasio’s authority over the public schools, they essentially voted for a return to the dysfunction of the old system of multiple community school boards. 

“It is a dereliction of duty,” Cuomo said.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

A hearing on whether 2010 gubernatorial candidate and Buffalo businessman Carl Paladino should be thrown off his city’s school board began Thursday at the New York State Education Department in Albany.

Controversial comments that Paladino made about former President Barack and Michelle Obama last December are not the subject of the hearing, but they nevertheless became an issue.

The nearing, convened by state Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, began with the attorney for the Buffalo school board explaining why the board is asking state officials to remove Paladino.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

This year's state legislative session has produced no agreements on ethics reform, even though Albany is in the midst of a what some call a corruption crime wave. Capitol correspondent Karen DeWitt (who is recovering from a cold) spoke to longtime League of Women Voters lobbyist Barbara Bartoletti about the lack of action.

Catherine Loper / WRVO News

The state Senate is likely to confirm Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s nomination to fill the latest vacancy on the state’s highest court.

Judge Paul Feinman would be the first openly gay judge on the Court of Appeals. During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, the Long Island native was generally praised by committee members.

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There was a flurry of activity — along with threats and ultimatums — on Monday at the state Capitol, but there were no agreements on major issues as the session draws to a scheduled close on Wednesday.

Victims of childhood sexual abuse remain hopeful that there could be a vote in the state Senate on a measure to extend the statute of limitations to age 28 for criminal proceedings and age 50 for civil proceedings.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins urged the majority coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats to allow the bill on the floor for a vote.

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The New York State Legislature is approaching its final week of the 2017 session, and agreements on outstanding issues, including mayoral control over the state’s largest school system, remain elusive. 

Catherine Loper / WRVO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has named the first openly gay judge to New York’s highest court.

Cuomo has nominated Paul Feinman, an appellate court judge and LGBT rights advocate, to fill a vacancy on the New York State Court of Appeals. During an interview on the cable news station NY1, Cuomo praised Feinman’s abilities.

A faction of breakaway Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference has been in the news lately for receiving stipend payments for chairing committees that the Senators in fact did not chair. Here’s a look at the history of this power-brokering group of senators and what may be in store for its future.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO News

Legislative leaders are dug in on remaining issues in the 2017 session and are accusing each other of unfairly linking unrelated items to renewal of mayoral control over New York City schools. Time is running out for scheduled meetings.

The renewal of mayoral control of New York City schools faces a hard deadline. It expires at the end of the month.

stgermh / Flickr

The New York state legislative session is drawing to a close, and Democrats and Republicans are digging in on the remaining issues of 2017. Among them is a measure to extend the New York City mayor’s control of the public schools, which has now been linked to a number of diverse issues affecting people in the rest of the state.

Games of chicken are common at the Capitol whenever a deadline like the budget or the end of session draws near. This time, it was the state Senate’s turn to go first.

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The state budget’s been in place for just less than two months, and already there are signs that tax revenues may be significantly lower than expected. Anticipated federal tax reductions later this year may be one of the reasons.

Late on the Friday before the Memorial Day holiday weekend, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget division released its financial analysis of the new state budget approved in early April.

If you look closely at the numbers, they show that tax revenues reported in May declined by just over $600 million from projections made as recently as February.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

With less than two weeks left in the legislative session, some New York lawmakers are pressing for reform of the state’s economic development contracting process in light of a scandal that’s led to federal corruption charges against several former associates of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo vowed Tuesday to help defeat the state’s Republican members of the House of Representatives when they are up for election next year.

Catherine Loper / WRVO News

The New York State Legislature is back at the Capitol for three weeks of meetings before the session ends later in June. A number of advocacy groups say there’s an opportunity for lawmakers to act to address some of the harm that they say President Donald Trump’s policies are causing. But divisions in the Legislature may hinder any chance of achievements.

Payne Horning / WRVO News File Photo

Supporters of a constitutional convention in New York say the amendment deserves prominent placement on the November ballot. Opponents say the entire idea is too risky, and that the state should skip it.

Every 20 years, New Yorkers have the chance to vote on whether the state should hold a constitutional convention. If it’s approved, delegates are elected from each state Senate district, and they meet to decide on potential changes to the state’s constitution.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed an executive order committing the state to meet the Paris climate accord standards, calling President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the agreement “reckless” and “irresponsible.”

State University of New York

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher is leaving her post next month. In an exit interview with Capitol Correspondent Karen DeWitt, Zimpher spoke about the details and potential drawbacks of the new Excelsior Scholarship program, which will offer free tuition to state colleges to some middle class students.

You can listen to the complete interview with Nancy Zimpher here.

Matt Churchill / Flickr

President Donald Trump, who’s never been very popular in New York, has reached an all-time low in the opinions of voters, according to a new poll.

According to the Siena College survey, Trump is viewed unfavorably by about two-thirds — 65 percent — of New Yorkers, with only his core base of some of the state’s Republicans still standing by the president. Sixty-three percent of registered GOP members who were surveyed believe Trump is doing an excellent or good job in office.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

Faith leaders from around New York came to the Capitol to gain support in the state Senate to adopt a statewide single-payer health care system. It would be an alternative to the national Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, which Republicans in Congress and President Donald Trump have been trying to dismantle.

New York State Senate

After an embarrassing controversy over stipend payments, the beleaguered group of breakaway Democrats in the state Senate is trying to change the subject.

The eight-member Independent Democratic Conference has been the target of some bad headlines lately because some of its members have accepted stipend payments of $12,500 to $18,000 for chairing committees when they were in fact the vice chairs, a position that does not legally entitle a senator to extra pay.

The IDC’s leader, Sen. Jeff Klein, has said repeatedly that it’s all legal.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News File Photo

There are reports that state senators who received payments for chairing committees that they actually did not chair are now under a probe by the state attorney general and at least one U.S. attorney.

Several Republican and independent Democratic senators were paid stipends allocated to chairs of Senate committees. But the senators weren’t actually the chairs; they had all been designated as vice chairs, a relatively new title. There is no provision in state law to pay stipends to vice chairs.

New York State Senate

The state is one step closer to having ride-hailing services available before the Fourth of July, now that the state Senate has passed a bill to speed up when companies like Uber and Lyft will be allowed to operate in upstate New York.

When state lawmakers agreed to allow the companies to operate outside New York City as part of the budget, they thought that they would pass the legislation by April 1, the start of the new fiscal year.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

The leader of the state Senate Independent Democratic Conference for the first time publicly answered questions from the media about news stories that some of his members received stipends for committee chair positions that they do not actually hold.

State Sen. Jeff Klein defended the practice, while the leader of the Senate Democrats is calling for an investigation.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

There are calls for a criminal investigation of some questionable stipend payments to some New York state senators. One of the senators who received those payments is giving it back, while another is calling the controversy a “witch hunt.”

Several senators who are part of a breakaway group of Democrats known as the Independent Democratic Conference were paid extra stipends — ranging from $12,500 to $18,000 a year — for serving on various Senate committees controlled by the majority party Republicans.

Payne Horning / WRVO News

School districts across the state are holding votes on their budgets Tuesday. While almost all of them are keeping their spending requests within the mandatory tax cap, some districts wonder whether the cap is sustainable over the long term.

The property tax cap is now in its sixth year, and according to David Albert with the New York State School Boards Association, most of the state’s nearly 700 school districts are asking for increases that are within the limits of the cap.

A new online video ad featuring Gov. Andrew Cuomo and promoting tolerance has once again fueled talk that New York’s governor may be planning a presidential run. There are some questions, though, about the ad and its donors.

The ad, which for now is only running online, features Cuomo and several well-known actors, including Steve Buscemi and Whoopi Goldberg. All claim to be something other than they actually are to promote a message of unity and tolerance in a diverse state.

“As a New Yorker, I am black,” Cuomo says in the ad.

“I am white,” Goldberg says.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

One of the top issues remaining before the state legislature adjourns for the summer is fixing problems in the state’s economic development contracts. That’s after a scandal led to federal corruption charges against nine former associates of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

A bill by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli to reinstate the comptroller’s ability to oversee economic development contracts is gaining momentum in the legislature.

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New York voters get a chance to decide in the fall whether the state should have a constitutional convention. Both state legislative leaders, however, say they are against it.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Senate Leader John Flanagan appeared together Tuesday at a forum sponsored by the Albany Times Union’s Hearst Media Center.

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