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

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

New York state Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy gave what was likely his last public address at an awards ceremony for the Regional Economic Development Councils, where he was praised by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and others.  

There are growing calls in Albany for a special prosecutor to investigate police encounters with unarmed citizens that end in the death of the person.  Senate Democrats are the latest to ask for immediate action in the wake of the death of Eric Garner and other recent incidents.

The state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has already asked Gov. Andrew Cuomo for an executive order to empower the attorney general to investigate and, if warranted, prosecute cases where unarmed civilians are killed by police officers.

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The New York Times is reporting that federal investigators are probing outside income paid to the New York state Assembly speaker, among other lawmakers. A reform group says the article is one more reason Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the legislature should adopt long overdue ethical changes.

Susan Lerner, with Common Cause, says legislators are finding that if they don’t change their policies they are increasingly finding themselves in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors. She says her group hopes to convince them to do so.

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Later this week an Assembly committee will hold a hearing on improving access to financial aid for college students. One of the issues will be better access for part-time community college students, who are the fastest growing group.

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

  Opponents of hydrofracking say they want Gov. Andrew Cuomo to declare a three- to five-year moratorium on fracking in New York state. The gas drilling process has been on hold for several years.

A coalition of groups, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, say Cuomo should immediately issue an executive order postponing any gas drilling. NRDC’s Kate Sinding  says that’s preferable to trying to get a bill passed through a divided state legislature, where the state Senate will be controlled by the Republicans in January.

Karen DeWitt / WRVO News

    

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Democratic primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, has joined up with the state’s Working Families Party to criticize what she says is a Wall Street hedge fund takeover of  the state’s educational policies.

Teachout, who was spurned by the Working Families Party when it endorsed Cuomo for re-election, has now joined with elements of the party to push back on proposals to lift the state’s cap on charter schools.

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In January, the state’s highest court will have two fewer judges. Only five of the seven slots will be filled, due to a mandatory retirement and delays by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Senate over confirmation hearings.

Judge Robert Smith, a well-respected jurist appointed by former Gov. George Pataki, will leave the Court of Appeals at the end of 2014 because he’s reached the mandatory retirement age of 70.

Gov. Cuomo has until mid-January to announce his choice for a replacement. Smith’s departure means that in the first month of 2015, the seven-member court will have just five judges on the panel. The state Senate has not yet confirmed a replacement for the previous vacancy, which occurred earlier this fall.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli says $5 billion in extra money that New York is reaping from bank settlements should not be viewed as a surplus, and should not be spent as though there will be more money coming in the future.

“I wouldn’t call it a surplus,” DiNapoli said. “It’s really more of a windfall.”

And so the comptroller says it should not be used for recurring expenses, like tax cuts or increased school aid, as some legislators have suggested.

Office of the Attorney General (file photo)

New York state finds itself with a five billion dollar surplus -- something that hasn't happened in a while. It's thanks in large part to bank settlements orchestrated by the office of Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

In a recent interview, Schneiderman said the money should be put in a special infrastructure fund. The attorney general says regions with economic problems hardest hit by the housing crash should be targeted to receive some of the funds.

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New York state lawmakers are pushing for their first pay raise in fifteen years, and say in exchange they might be willing to give up the practice of a daily stipend for each day they spend in Albany, known as per diems, that has sometimes led to abuse.

Legislators receive $172 for every day that they spend in Albany, above normal travel and lodging expenses, and in addition to their $79,500 annual base pay.

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An independent review board has found fault with the Cuomo administration’s attempts to convert a federal clean water fund loan into construction work for the New York State Thruway’s Tappan Zee Bridge.

Sudipto Sarkar / Flickr

On the anniversary of the Great American Smokeout, a leading anti-cancer group says Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration should be spending more to cut back on smoking.

The American Cancer Society’s Michael Burgess says while the Centers for Disease Control recommends New York state spend $200 million annually on tobacco cessation programs, the current state budget has just under $40 million allotted for it. Burgess says in the past, it’s been demonstrated that spending the money on things like a smokers quit line works.

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The New  York state attorney general says the Buffalo lake effect snowstorms are more evidence that climate change is happening, and that New York and the nation need to work harder to combat the causes of global warming.

State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman says this week in western New York is another example of weather patterns that are changing, and won’t go back to normal by themselves.

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State lawmakers say they want to act quickly to spend the state’s growing $5 billion surplus on an infrastructure fund to fix up roads and bridges, among other things. At a think tank sponsored conference on the state’s infrastructure, participants said there are deep needs and they warn lawmakers not to spend the money frivolously.  

Karen Dewitt

Advocates of raising the minimum wage see hope in recent statements by the leader of the state Senate, and hope a deal can be struck by the end of the year.

Republican Senate Leader Dean Skelos, whose party will control the Senate in January, says while he thinks the state’s gradual increase of the state’s minimum wage to $9 an hour next year is good enough, he’s willing to at least discuss raising it higher. Skelos, after meeting with Republican members, says he also wants a pay raise for senators.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

The leader of the state Senate Republicans says his members will once again join forces with a group of breakaway Democrats to rule the Senate come January. Sen. Dean Skelos says his members also want a pay raise.

Republicans won a bare majority of 32 seats in the 2014 elections and Skelos, following a two-hour closed door meeting with his Republican members, says the GOP will once again form a coalition government with Sen. Jeff Klein, the leader of the Independent Democrats.

The New York State Senate will likely miss a deadline to approve Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s latest choice for the state’s high court. As a result, there will be six judges instead of seven on the court come December.

The vacancy on the state’s highest court is occurring because the 14-year term of Judge Victoria Graffeo expires at the end of November. Graffeo, a widely respected Republican chosen by former Gov. George Pataki, could have served for eight more years before reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70, had Cuomo, a Democrat, chosen to reappoint her.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

Green Party candidate for governor Howie Hawkins says he’s not going away now that elections are over. He says he intends to continue drawing attention to issues like raising the minimum wage and building his party, instead.

Hawkins says the Greens, who were the only party to gain voters in the elections, intends to build their membership in the coming months. Hawkins says 70 percent of voters did not bother coming to the polls, and he sees potential in the disaffected electorate.

“Those are the future Green voters,” Hawkins said. “That’s the way we’re looking at it.”

James F Clay / Flickr

The New York State Educational Conference Board says now that the economy is improving and the state has a multi-billion dollar surplus, it’s time to end years of what they say is underspending on New York’s schools.

The board is made up of the state’s teachers, school boards, superintendents and the PTA, among others. They agree school spending must increase significantly in the new year. Chairman John Yagielski says the groups want an additional $1.9 billion for the 2015-16 school year.

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New York state will begin 2015 with the largest one-time windfall budget surplus since the end of World War II, due to settlements with major banks after the financial crisis. Fiscal watchdog groups are warning lawmakers not to go crazy with ideas for how to spend it.

The settlements from Bank of America, PricewaterhouseCoopers and other financial institutions have netted the state $5.1 billion in settlements over alleged misconduct during the 2008 Wall Street meltdown.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Now that elections are over, supporters and opponents of hydrofracking are wondering what will be Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s next move on the long-stalled gas drilling process in New York state.

New York has had a de facto moratorium on fracking for several years. Most recently, Cuomo has said he’s awaiting results of an over two-year long health review being conducted by his administration.

During a debate in October, Cuomo said the review would finally be completed by the end of the calendar year.

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All three propositions on the New York state ballot passed Tuesday. Supporters of the measure to change the redistricting process say the vote shows New Yorkers are hungry for reform.

Voters approved a change in the state’s constitution that will require the legislature to appoint a commission to redraw state Senate, Assembly and congressional district lines after the 2020 census.

Dick Dadey, with Citizens Union, a group that supported the amendment, says the 57 percent of voters who said yes shows that the public craves reform of the present system.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, won another four years in office, but the Republicans recaptured the state Senate. That could lead to Washington-style gridlock on a number of issues that Cuomo pushed for during the campaign.

Cuomo, under pressure from the left of his party, pressed for a progressive agenda in the final weeks of his campaign, including an abortion rights provision in a women’s equality package, further increases in the state’s minimum wage and public financing of political campaigns. On election night, Cuomo promised he would deliver on those items.

Cuomo wins re-election

Nov 5, 2014
Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

Gov. Andrew Cuomo won re-election to a second term easily beating his nearest opponent, Republican Rob Astorino.

Cuomo, to chants of “four more years,” promised to deliver in his next term on a mostly progressive agenda, including enacting a number of items that were stalled in the state Senate over the past couple of years, like an abortion rights provision as part of a women’s rights agenda and public financing of political campaigns.

governorandrewcuomo / Flickr

If Gov. Andrew Cuomo wins reelection, he’s likely to continue having tensions with the left-leaning members of his party.

Cuomo was endorsed by the progressive Working Families Party after he promised to work for a Democratic state Senate, among other things. But in recent weeks the alliance has frayed, with Cuomo pushing voters to cast ballots on a new line he created called the Women’s Equality Party, known on the ballot as WEP, instead of the Working Families Party line.

governorandrewcuomo and Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, and his Republican opponent, Rob Astorino, spent Monday delivering their final messages to voters in a race where the Democratic incumbent governor is favored to win, but by how much?

The governor, in his final pitch to voters, defined Astorino as an ultra-conservative who he says is against many social issues that Democrats are for, including a woman’s right to choose abortion.

“When they try to sell their hate and division, our message is very simple,” Cuomo said. “That hate and venom won’t sell in New York.”

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

There are three amendments on Tuesday’s ballot for New Yorkers to decide, including changing redistricting processes and whether to borrow $2 billion for school technology.   

Proposal 1 changes the way redistricting is conducted in New York, and reform groups are split over whether it’s a good idea or not.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO

Green Party candidate for governor Howie Hawkins is poised to do better than in the past, and possibly better than the left-leaning candidate has ever done in New York.

Hawkins, who’s been running as high as 14 percent in polls in some regions of the state, says New Yorkers on the left are increasingly disenchanted with Cuomo.

The Green Party candidate cites Cuomo’s budget cuts, enacting lowered pension benefits for new state workers and refusal, so far, to ban hydrofracking.

“He’s my best campaign worker, he’s pushing people toward me,” Hawkins said of Cuomo.

governorandrewcuomo and Ellen Abbott/WRVO

Election Day is Tuesday and the two major party candidates for governor held get out the vote rallies across the state over the weekend, as the contest comes down to whether supporters will turn out at the polls.

Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo, with a large lead in the polls, has nevertheless been pulling out all the stops to try to win over more voters.

Ryan Delaney / WRVO

An experimental public campaign finance system for the state comptroller’s race has fizzled, after the lone candidate who applied for the program failed to meet the minimum threshold to obtain public monies.

The pilot public campaign financing program was limited to just the state comptroller’s race as part of a state budget deal.

It was widely condemned at the time by reform groups as fatally flawed. Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group called it cynical.

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