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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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.

Zack Seward / WXXI

Gov. Andrew Cuomo won the endorsement of the state’s left-leaning Working Families Party in a messy convention vote that stretched to nearly midnight on Saturday night.

Some members of the party have been upset because they believe the governor has not been progressive enough and they're unhappy with Cuomo's support for business-friendly tax cuts and charter schools.

Cuomo did not attend the contentious meeting, but he did send a pre-produced video, and some of the party members booed when he later phoned in some comments.

Brett Levin / Flickr

The fate of a medical marijuana bill remains up in the air in New York state. The state Assembly has approved a version that would allow patients to obtain the drug for medical treatment, while a similar measure remains hung up in the state Senate.

Advocates cheered as the New York State Assembly approved a medical marijuana bill that would  permit patients to possess small amounts of marijuana to treat approved medical conditions. The legislation also sets up licensed dispensaries to grow and sell the drug to sick people.

Matt Ryan, New York Now

It’s coming down to the wire for a decision on whether the Working Families Party endorses Gov. Andrew Cuomo for reelection or not. Talks are ongoing as the Saturday convention approaches.

The left-leaning minor party was angered when Cuomo failed to win a public campaign financing system for statewide offices in the budget. They were also annoyed by cuts to corporate taxes and wealthy estate owners that the governor championed.

Cuomo has faced opposition from Republicans in the state Senate, who rule in a coalition with a group of break-away Democrats.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO file photo

The GOP candidate for governor, Rob Astorino, tied the issue of lengthy terms in office to the controversy over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Moreland Act Commission, using it as an example of corruption that can happen after lawmakers spend decades in office. The Moreland Commission, which was investigating potential wrongdoing in the legislature, was closed down as part of a budget agreement in late March.

Wallyg / via Flickr

A Republican-led Senate task force has released a package of bills aimed at combating the growing heroin addiction in New York.

The bills would require schools to carry supplies of Naloxone, the drug used to treat heroin overdoses and in many cases, prevent death. They would also require better management of patients treated for drug addiction, and  convert some recently closed state prisons to treatment centers.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to face a challenge from left-leaning members of his own party, which will play out at the end of the week during the Working Families Party convention. In addition, a progressive Democrat and wealthy businessman who’s been a harsh critic of Cuomo is threatening to try to get on the ballot for lieutenant governor.

Bill Samuels, a passionate oppponent of Cuomo, says he’s seriously thinking about challenging the governor’s hand-picked running mate, former Rep. Kathy Hochul, in a Democratic primary.

Zack Seward / WXXI

Now that the major political party conventions are over, state officials are shifting their focus back to the remaining issues in the legislative session, which ends in four weeks. But politics are still front and center in the session's waning days.

The spotlight will continue to be on Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the final weeks of the session, and whether he achieves the three major items he laid out in his acceptance speech to delegates at the party convention.

“We must pass a Women’s Equality Act, public finance, and a Dream Act,” Cuomo told a cheering crowd. “And we will!”

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has quietly accepted the endorsement of the state’s Independence Party, after the party met with no public notice in Albany on Friday morning.

The Democrat governor did not attend the brief Independence Party meeting in Albany, but speaking in Buffalo later, acknowledged the endorsement.

“I’ve accepted the endorsement and I’ll be running on their line,” Cuomo said. “I’m pleased with their endorsement.”

Matt Ryan, New York Now

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was nominated to run for a second term, along with his freshly chosen running mate, former western New York Congresswoman Kathy Hochul.

Cuomo was nominated by a diverse group ranging from former President Bill Clinton, Harry Belafonte and union leaders via video, and ending with an endorsement by his daughters.

Cuomo, speaking to a packed and excited hall of delegates, recounted his accomplishments, including passing same sex marriage, rebuilding the Tappan Zee Bridge, and capping property taxes.

Karen Dewitt / WRVO

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was nominated for a second term at the Democratic Party convention on Long Island Wednesday.

Schneiderman touted his record, which he says includes getting back pay owed to fast food workers, cracking down on opioid and heroin abuse, and convincing gun show operators to voluntarily close legal loopholes and require background checks for purchases.

“It all is summed up in the notion of equal justice under law,” Schneiderman said.  

Kathy Hochul/Facebook

Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed his choice for lieutenant governor via a video address to delegates at the state Democratic Party convention on Long Island. The announcement of former western New York Rep. Kathy Hochul comes at the same time a new poll shows Cuomo continuing to face a threat from some in the left wing of his party.

Cuomo will not actually attend the convention until the day of his own nomination, but he did record a message announcing his choice of Hochul as his running mate.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be nominated to run for a second term as governor Thursday.

Before the happens, two other incumbents will be endorsed for a second full term; State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The only surprise expected at the convention is the announcement of Cuomo's running mate. Several names have been mentioned to replace Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who has opted not to seek a second term.

The governor and his aides have been keeping that name close to the vest. They're expected to reveal their choice later Wednesday.

The leader of the state Senate Republicans offered some hope that New York’s public campaign finance system could be expanded before the session is over.  

Senate GOP Leader Dean Skelos says talks are ongoing about expanding public campaign finance to more statewide races in New York. Skelos, who’s said a plan pushed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo would be a waste of the taxpayers’ money, says he’s open to other means of funding, like a voluntary tax form check off.

Matt Ryan, New York Now

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino accepted the Republican nomination for governor at the state party convention in Westchester, saying Gov. Andrew Cuomo hasn’t lived up to his promises to improve the state.

Astorino painted a grim picture of the state, saying New York is 50th out of the 50 states in high taxes, economic outlook, and corruption. And he blames it all on bad government.

“What have our politicians done? They’ve nearly ruined a once great state,” Astorino said. “The statistics scream incompetence.”

Karen DeWitt/WRVO News

The Republican candidate for governor, Rob Astorino, claims an aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo made him sit in the back during President Barack Obama’s visit to New York City's Tappan Zee Bridge Wednesday, a charge Cuomo’s spokesman denies.

President Obama spoke near the bridge in Westchester County on the opening day of the state Republican Party convention, held just a few miles away nearby.

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, who is also the GOP nominee for governor, attended the event, along with his opponent, incumbent Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

State Republicans have picked their candidate for comptroller, Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci. He will be the first statewide candidate in New York to rely on public financing to pay for his campaign.

Antonacci has been comptroller for Onondaga County, which includes Syracuse, since 2007, and says he would use his skills as a certified public accountant and attorney to scrutinize state spending by the governor and the legislature, and speak out when he sees waste.

Chemung County

GOP candidate for governor Rob Astorino says his choice for a lieutenant governor running mate will be Chemung County Sheriff Chris Moss, an avid opponent of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s gun control laws.

Ellen Abbott / WRVO file photo

Rob Astorino, the Westchester County executive, faces a steep challenge. He’s 30 points behind the well-known incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo in the polls, and has only a fraction of Cuomo’s record $33 million campaign war chest.  

Astorino is a Republican in a state where Democrats now dominate and independents, not registered in either major party, are gaining ground. But the 47-year-old married father of three says he’s used to being a long shot.

The state’s Republican and Democratic Party conventions will be held over the next couple weeks. Both major parties have chosen to hold them in locations in the New York City suburbs.

The Republicans go first. They are meeting in Rye Brook in Westchester County May 14.  It makes sense for the GOP to hold their convention in a New York City suburb. There is still a small bastion of registered Republicans, and the Republican nominee for governor will be Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino.  

Gov. Cuomo is facing pressure to revive an issue that failed in state budget negotiations -- enacting a public campaign financing system for statewide elections.

In the final budget deal, Cuomo agreed with legislative leaders to a pared-down public campaign finance system that would apply only to the state comptroller’s race, and sunset after this year.

The governor was immediately condemned by government reform groups who said the pilot program was cynically designed to fail. But Cuomo defended the deal, saying advocates were looking at the glass half empty.

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