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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Gov. Andrew Cuomo says he’s not concerned about reports that the casino gambling industry may not be all that healthy. The negative news comes as the state is considering authorizing four new gambling centers in the next few months.

One third of Atlantic City’s casinos, including one run by Donald Trump, have announced plans to close, and Moody’s investor rating services has downgraded the casino industry from stable to negative citing “declines in comparable monthly gaming revenue.” 

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is already ahead of his Republican challenger in name recognition. Now, according to required campaign disclosure filings with the state Board of Elections, Cuomo is far ahead in fundraising as well.

Cuomo, who already had more than $33 million in his campaign war chest, took in an additional $8.4 million during the first six months of the year and spent around $6.5 million, leaving him with a balance of more than $35 million.

Rob Astorino, the GOP candidate for governor, faces an uphill battle against the incumbent governor.

Karen DeWitt

Environmentalists are urging a key review board to vote no on a request from the Cuomo administration to help finance the rebuilding of a major Thruway bridge with a fund designed for municipal clean water projects.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration wants to use money from a revolving loan fund, designed to help local governments keep their sewer and water treatment systems up to date and their drinking water clean, to instead help pay for the massive Tappan Zee Bridge replacement project.

William Hartz

Advocates for a higher minimum wage are urging for better wages for workers who rely on tips. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has promised to create a committee to consider raising the minimum rate for the workers, and the groups say they have evidence that an increase is needed.

Currently, tipped workers in New York are not covered under a new law that allows the state’s minimum wage to increase to $9.00 an hour by 2016.  The minimum wage for workers like waiters and pizza deliverers who receive tips is still set at $5.00 an hour.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

A group of healthcare professionals are seeking a meeting with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s health department, saying they have compiled a compendium of new and ongoing research highlighting numerous health risks associated with the controversial natural gas drilling process called hydrofracking.

The health experts include a doctor, a veterinarian, and a Cornell University medical professor, who have requested a meeting with Cuomo’s acting health commissioner, Dr. Howard Zucker, to go over the growing number of studies indicating numerous health risks associated with fracking.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO file photo

The Republican challenger for governor, Rob Astorino, has proposed multiple debates in locations around the state with incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The governor has so far not accepted any.

In a video, Astorino says the debates should be held in every region of the state between now and election day.

“I challenge Gov. Cuomo to a series of at least eight regional debates around New York state,” Astorino said.

Astorino says he agreed to five one-hour debates when he ran for his second term as Westchester County executive.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

Zephyr Teachout, the Democratic primary challenger to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, expects to file more than 40,000 signatures late Thursday to obtain a place on the ballot for the September primary voting.

Teachout, a Fordham Law School professor, says she’ll file her petitions in the final hours before the deadline, at around nine Thursday evening.

“We have over 40,000 signatures of registered Democrats, and we expect to have 45,000 signatures,” Teachout said.

Matt Ryan, New York Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s running mate, lieutenant governor nominee Kathy Hochul, is keeping an unusually low profile during the first months of the election campaign. The lack of public campaigning by Hochul is starting to raise some questions.

Kathy Hochul, a former one-term congresswoman and former Erie County clerk, appeared with Cuomo at the state Democratic convention in May, one day after she was chosen to run as lieutenant governor.

Hochul promised the audience that she would “carry our message of hope and optimism across this great state.”

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

The Republican candidate for governor in New York is petitioning to run on a new ballot line that capitalizes on public opposition to the new Common Core learning standards.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino is gathering signatures to run on a third ballot line in November. In addition to the GOP and Conservative party slots, Astorino has begun a new ballot line called Stop Common Core. He admits it could give Democrats and others who are reluctant to vote for the Republican Party another option.

Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo

New York is now the 23rd state to allow medical marijuana, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a bill into law. But, it will be some time before patients will have access to the drug.

New York will now permit patients with diseases like cancer and AIDS to have access to some forms of medical marijuana. Cuomo, who in the past opposed the idea, came around  after several new regulations and restriction guarantees were written into the legislation.

Senate Republicans have a new strategy in what’s shaping up to be an election battle for control of the New York state Senate. They say now that a group of breakaway Democrats is abandoning them and rejoining the rest of the Democrats, the Senate will be dominated by New York City liberals who won’t care about upstate and Long Island.

The five-member Independent Democratic Conference  announced it would break its nearly two-year-old  alliance in ruling the Senate with the Republicans, and plans to join the Democrats in a coalition government after the November elections.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

Senate Independent Conference Leader Jeff Klein says even though his group now plans to realign with the Democrats in the Senate, he won’t rule out working with Republicans in the future.

-JvL- / Flickr

Two Democratic factions in the New York State Senate say they are joining to form what could be a strong Democratic majority in the Senate, leaving Republicans, who up until now have ruled the chamber in a coalition government, out of power.

James F Clay / Flickr

Fewer than 20 percent of school districts outside of New York City have expressed interest in expanding their pre-kindergarten programs. Critics say that falls far short of the goals of a program billed in the state budget as  universal pre-K.

When the state budget was approved on March 31, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders touted funding for pre-kindergarten that they said could lead to making it universal in New York state.

Senate Co-leader Jeff Klein was one of its biggest advocates.

Karen DeWitt

Government reform groups are beginning their push early to convince voters to reject an amendment on redistricting that will be on the state’s November ballot. They say it’s a sham that does not offer the changes it promises.

After a lengthy debate of several hours, the medical marijuana bill was approved in the Senate , and now goes to the desk of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has said he'll sign it.   

Sponsor Diane Savino says she’s “gratified” by the larger than expected number of yes votes, including some surprise votes from traditionally conservative Senators.

Savino says she hopes the wide support can serve to make the vote in New York, the 23rd state to legalize medical marijuana, a tipping point for the federal government to change its policies against the drug.

dank depot / via Flickr

Updated, 3:50 p.m.:

After a lengthy debate of several hours, the medical marijuana bill was approved in the state Senate, and now goes to the desk of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has said he'll sign it. 

Sponsor Sen. Diane Savino says she’s "gratified" by the larger than expected number of yes votes, including some surprise votes from traditionally conservative senators.

Brett Levin / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature have agreed to a limited medical marijuana program for patients with cancer, AIDS, and childhood seizure disorders. It will not allow the drug to be smoked.

Cuomo, who had expressed reservations about allowing medical marijuana, says the bill will grant sick people access to the drug, while imposing limits that will prevent abuse of marijuana.

“It strikes the right balance,” Cuomo said.

James F Clay / Flickr

A tentative agreement has been reached by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature to put off the effects of the controversial Common Core tests on teachers for another two years.

Earlier this year the Democratic governor and the legislature imposed a moratorium on the Common Core tests effects on students, now that postponement moratorium extends to teachers who received poor ratings on their annual evaluations as a result of low scores by students on the controversial new tests.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders have agreed to a package of bills combating heroin addiction, and say they are still discussing other issues, including medical marijuana, as the legislative session draws to a close.  

Cuomo calls the measures to curb the heroin abuse epidemic his top priority for the end of the 2014 session. He says the legislation will require health insurance companies to pay for more treatments.

“Insurance companies, frankly, can’t play games and decide who gets treatment and who doesn’t get treatment,” said Cuomo.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

Sponsors of a medical marijuana bill continued to negotiate with Gov. Andrew Cuomo over the governor’s objections to many of the measure’s provisions, but say they are hopeful that a deal can be reached in the next couple of days.

State Senate Co-leader Jeff Klein is optimistic about the chances for a medical marijuana law in New York.

“My prediction is we’re going to end this session on a high,” Klein quipped after a lengthy closed-door meeting with Cuomo and the Senate and Assembly sponsors of the bill.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo might have a primary challenger. Zephyr Teachout, a Fordham University law professor and activist, announced she’s collecting signatures to be on the September Democratic primary ballot.

Teachout was first promoted by the left-leaning Working Families Party as an alternative candidate to Cuomo, but in the end the minor party dropped her in favor of the governor. Teachout says she volunteered for Cuomo’s 2010 campaign for governor, but has grown disenchanted, and believes that he’s become too concerned with raising money for his political campaign.

-JvL- / Flickr

The legislative session is scheduled to end on Thursday, and many issues remain unresolved. But a low-key end of session might not matter much to New York’s top political figures.

The chances of passage for several key issues promoted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, including a Women’s Equality Act and public campaign finance appear dim, due to opposition from Senate Republicans.

The end-of-session gridlock grew worse after  Cuomo pledged to the left leaning Working Families Party that he would work to end the GOP’s partial control in the Senate and replace them with Democrats.

Zack Seward / WXXI

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is downplaying the chances of any major agreements before the legislative session ends later this month.

The governor, who has already vowed to replace the current Senate leadership coalition of Republicans and breakaway Democrats, says he does not expect any deals on big ticket issues before the legislature leaves for the summer.

“We have some clean up items,” Cuomo said. “I don’t expect us to do any major initiatives.”

Democrats and their allies in the legislature say there’s little chance anything major can be accomplished in the remaining days of the legislative session. Those pushing a Women’s Equality Act are already looking ahead to the fall campaigns as the next step.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo is downplaying expectations for any major agreements in the final days of the legislative session.

“We have some clean up items,” Cuomo said. “I don’t expect us to do any major initiatives.”

Wallyg / via Flickr

The 2014 legislative session has just eight working days left to go, with the closing day scheduled for June 20. As lawmakers prepare to return for the final two weeks, there’s uncertainty whether anything will get done, now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has publicly vowed to try to oust the current Senate leadership. 

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

The Green Party candidate for governor, making a statewide tour, says there’s always been an alternative, left-leaning candidate for governor and he says his chances to win votes are now better than ever.

Wallyg / via Flickr

In the aftermath of a political endorsement that has shaken up the Capitol, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tried to change the subject with two economic development appearances.

Cuomo has promised the Working Families Party that he would fight to take the Senate away from a coalition of Republicans and Independent Democrats, and give it to the mainstream Democrats. In a video he sent to the party’s convention, he condemned the state’s GOP.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

The fallout from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new alliance with the progressive Working Families Party continues at the state Capitol, with those who say they represent upstate interests dismayed at the development.

Brian Sampson, with the business friendly group Unshackle Upstate, had planned to begin his organization’s final push on several items they wanted to see passed in the legislature. But he arrived at the Capitol just after Cuomo struck a deal with the progressive Working Families Party to help Democrats take over the state Senate.

-JvL- / Flickr

Democrats in the New York State Senate say they are taking Gov. Andrew Cuomo at his word to help them regain the majority, despite some indications that he might be walking back some of the promises he made at the Working Family Party’s convention Saturday night.

Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins says she’s holding Cuomo to the promise he made to the Working Families Party, to regain Democratic control of the state Senate.

“He has to,” Stewart-Cousins said.

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