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Karen S. Burstein (born July 20, 1942) is a politician, attorney, civil servant, and former judge from the State of New York. She served in the New York State Senate, worked in the administration of Gov. Mario Cuomo, chaired the New York State Civil Service Commission, became Auditor General of New York City, and then served as a Judge of the New York City Family Court. Burstein was the Democratic nominee for New York State Attorney General in 1994, but was defeated.

Early life and educationEdit

Burstein was born on July 20, 1942[1] in Nassau County, New York, the daughter of international lawyer Herbert Burstein and Supreme Court Justice Beatrice S. Burstein (1915–2001).[2] Burstein's mother was the first woman State Supreme Court Justice on Long Island.[3] Burstein grew up in Baldwin and Lawrence, New York.[3] She was the first female student body president at the Woodmere Academy.[3] A 1964 graduate of Bryn Mawr College, Burstein also was the first white full-time student at Fisk University. Burstein taught in newly integrated Tennessee high schools and protested the Vietnam War.[3] She graduated from Fordham Law School[4] in 1971.[3]

Burstein's sister, Ellen, was a television news reporter who died at the age of 59 after suffering from multiple sclerosis.[5]


A Democrat, Burstein unsuccessfully ran for Congress on Long Island in 1970 on an antiwar platform.[6] She was elected to the New York State Senate in 1972 and was named chairwoman of the State Consumer Protection Board in 1980.[3] In 1983, she was appointed president of the New York State Civil Service Commission.[7][3] In 1987, Burstein was appointed Auditor General of New York City by New York City Mayor Ed Koch. New York City Mayor David Dinkins appointed Burstein to a judgeship on the New York City Family Court in 1990.[3][8]

Burstein resigned her Family Court judgeship in 1994 to seek the Democratic nomination for New York Attorney General.[8] In the primary, she faced Attorney General G. Oliver Koppell, Brooklyn D.A. Charles Hynes, and former prosecutor Eliot Spitzer. She won the primary and faced former U.S. Attorney Dennis Vacco of Buffalo in the general election. A week before the election, Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinari opined that Burstein would not be qualified to serve as Attorney General because she is a lesbian. Vacco narrowly defeated Burstein.[9] The New York Times called Molinari's remarks "gutter politics."[10]

Burstein unsuccessfully sought a New York County Surrogate's Court judgeship in 1996.[11]

Personal lifeEdit

Burstein married Eric Lane in 1972.[4] The couple later divorced.[12] In 1990, during a judicial swearing-in ceremony, Burstein publicly acknowledged her female romantic partner.[13] As of 1994, Burstein publicly identified as a lesbian.[3]


  1. ^ WOMAN IN THE NEWS; NEW CIVIL SERVICE CHIEF in the New York Times on June 27, 1983
  2. ^ State Justice Beatrice S. Burstein Is Dead at 85 in the New York Times on January 9, 2001
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Fisher, Ian (August 7, 1994). "Burstein Brings an Edge to Attorney General's Race". The New York Times. Retrieved March 6, 2019.
  4. ^ a b "Eric Lane Weds Karen Burstein". 20 November 1972 – via
  6. ^ Silver, Roy R. (24 October 1970). "Woman,28, Is Fighting for Wydler's L.I. House Seat" – via
  7. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (27 June 1983). "Woman in the News; New Civil Service Chief" – via
  8. ^ a b Fisher, Ian (23 May 1994). "Liberal Party Backs Bid for Attorney General" – via
  9. ^ Newman, Maria (9 November 1994). "THE 1994 ELECTIONS: NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL; Vacco Comes From Behind To Win Against Burstein" – via
  10. ^ "Guy Molinari, From the Gutter". 12 October 1994 – via
  11. ^ Gelder, Lawrence Van (12 September 1996). "Burstein Says Primary Defeat Could Be Her Last Campaign" – via
  12. ^ Dullea, Georgia (28 September 1981). "Getting to Be Good Friends, After Divorce" – via
  13. ^ <
New York State Senate
Preceded by
Jack E. Bronston
New York State Senate
9th District

Succeeded by
Carol Berman
Party political offices
Preceded by
Robert Abrams
Democratic nominee for
Attorney General of New York

Succeeded by
Eliot Spitzer