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The governor who once muscled his biggest priorities through the Capitol annually, rarely failing to come out on top, is now taking a decidedly lighter tread in negotiations with Senate Majority Leaders Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, according to half a dozen people familiar with the budget talks. Both Democratic leaders have taken a hard line against Cuomo over the past month, with Stewart-Cousins being among the first to call for his resignation and Heastie authorizing an impeachment investigation that commenced late last month.

Nearly a month after he vowed to not let his then-burgeoning sexual harassment scandal deter him from doing his job, Cuomo is now spending his days trying to reframe the now-tarnished narrative of his tenure as he faces the single greatest threat to his decades-long political career. He appears to be putting political survival ahead of his own policy priorities, playing nice with lawmakers as he zips around the state to tout progress on vaccines and announce steps to open up the state’s economy.

On Monday, Cuomo appeared deferential to legislators as he called the budget “the most complicated, the most ambitious and the hardest budget that we have done,” and applauded both chambers for working through pandemic restrictions.

“They’ve been working very hard, under very difficult circumstances,” Cuomo said. “So it’s been a complicated process on top of a complicated product. … But this budget will set the trajectory for the state for the next 10 years.”

He went on to tout the recent legalization of marijuana in New York and local police reform plans that are nearly in place across the state, neither of which were initiated through the budget. He made no mention of the deals he had cut to sign off on progressive priorities, including the agreement to temporarily raise taxes on those making more than $1 million a year, a move that will give New York City’s top earners the highest combined city and state tax rate in the country.

Cuomo‘s January budget proposal did include a similar tax hike on high earners that was worth about $1.5 billion, but he called it his “worst-case-scenario” budget. His administration backed away from the concept after the most recent federal relief package authorized about $12.5 billion in aid for New York.

The state Senate and Assembly both proposed raising more than $6.5 billion through tax increases even after they saw the federal dollars coming in, in part due to pushes from progressive members and advocates warning that a one-time influx of federal stimulus wouldn’t be enough to fix existing imbalances in the state’s financial planning.

Cuomo on Monday also made no mention of an influx of more than $4 billion in school funding that the final deal is expected to phase-in over three years through a system that progressives have long sought. Cuomo has resisted their demands, calling them political and labeling a years-old lawsuit over the issue “ghosts of the past and distractions from the present.”

Legislative leaders have said publicly that Cuomo’s scandals — both over his sexual harassment allegations and his administration’s attempt to hide the number of Covid-19 deaths tied to nursing homes — has had little effect on the budget process, which is largely driven by staff and their constitutional duty to pass a spending plan on time. But legislative sources and former Cuomo aides say it’s clear Democratic lawmakers are steering the budget negotiations this year, in contrast to the past.

“With that federal revenue and with state revenues shoring up pretty nicely, you have a budget that should not have been so hard to get done on time,“ said a former Cuomo aide, speaking on condition of anonymity to so as not to anger the governor. “So it seems pretty clear to me the lawmakers are saying, ‘we’re going to do it this way.’”

In years past, Cuomo has been able to wield considerable power in the Legislature by reaching out to rank-and-file members and their political power brokers. But that’s harder than ever with huge portions of Democrats in both chambers calling for his resignation last month.



Typically what you’d be doing is in order to get to the lawmakers you’d be working their constituency groups and their advocacy groups and that would influence the lawmakers,” the former official said. “But the progressive groups, every single one of them, wants to see them gone.”

But some say the governor — or his office at least — has been pushing hard in certain areas, such as enhanced spending authority for federal funds and stricter checks on how unemployment might be distributed to undocumented immigrants.

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“I know a lot of people speculated as to whether he would be weaker this time around, but I haven’t seen any sign of that,” said Assembly Health Chair Richard Gottfried, the chamber’s longest-serving member.

Still, Cuomo has in past weeks fled to friendlier waters when he shows his face in public, fully engaged in the craft of narrative revision. Earlier Monday, he was in his native Queens to announce public service campaign to encourage vaccinations, part of a downstate tour visiting pop-up vaccination sites in communities of color he had promised months ago to prioritize in the state’s distribution program. Those events, more often than not closed to reporters, have given him the ability to solicit public praise — specifically from his supporters in the Black community who have thanked him for his follow-through.

On Monday, he received compliments from Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), who last month said Cuomo should resign if it was shown he couldn’t effectively lead the state. And Queens Assemblymember Vivian Cook, who worked on Cuomo’s father’s campaigns and has known the governor since he was young, told the borough and state to “thank this son of Queens for making sure that we are taken care of.”

“We are proud and we are proud of him. So, no matter what you say or what you do, we’re going to stick by this man — he’s staying with us,” she said.

Cuomo’s mood during these kinds of public appearances have been almost buoyant, with bits like challenging former Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia to arm wrestle during a jovial event to announce the Yankees and Mets could start their seasons with fans.

And when his chief counsel and budget czar joined a recent question-and-answer session by web cam, he teased them publicly for appearing glum.

“He’s looking very stern faced because he’s coming down to it — he only has a few days left to work on the budget,” Cuomo said of budget director Robert Mujica, who neither smiled nor responded. “You can see the stress on his face.“

“Business as usual” is an ancient ploy that has occasionally worked for embattled politicians patient enough to see a news cycle through.

“I think what you see the governor doing is trying to focus on the things that he knows the public likes and trying to ignore, to the extent possible, all the things that he doesn’t like,” said Steve Greenberg, the spokesperson for Siena College Research Institute.

Though the most recent polling from Siena found dips in his overall favorability and reelection prospects, 60 percent of voters still approved of his handling of the pandemic and a 48 percent plurality say he should continue to do his job despite the allegations.

But as the budget process wraps up in Albany, it’s likely eyes will again turn to the investigations into sexual harassment allegations, Cuomo’s handling of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes and new reports that Cuomo recruited several members of his staff to produce his book about leadership during the pandemic.

The lawmakers and attorneys heading up the Assembly Judiciary’s impeachment probe have said it could take “months, rather than weeks” to compile any findings that would initiate the next steps. There is no timeline for the state Attorney General Tish James’ report, though Cuomo has asked the public to wait for its completion before drawing any conclusions about his behavior.

“I think the goal here is to run out the clock to the extent possible and hope that the Tish James report comes out in the middle of the summer when everyone is vaccinated and there’s all this stimulus money coming in,” said another former Cuomo aide, also speaking on condition of anonymity.

“He has in his back pocket [the] I’m-not-going-to-run-for-a-fourth-term card, and the closer we get to June [2022] primary, the more effective that is,” the official said. “But I would not underestimate his desire and intention for running for a fourth term.”


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Queen sits alone at funeral for Prince Philip to set example

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Other royals who are in family bubbles are sitting together.

The service began with Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby entering the chapel ahead of the coffin, followed by Philip’s children and three of his eight grandchildren, as a four-member choir sang “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Inside the Gothic chapel, the setting for centuries of royal weddings and funerals, the service was to be simple and somber. There will be no sermon, at Philip’s request, and no family eulogies or readings, in keeping with royal tradition. But Dean of Windsor David Conner will say the country has been enriched by Philip’s “unwavering loyalty to our queen, by his service to the nation and the Commonwealth, by his courage, fortitude and faith.”

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Philip spent almost 14 years in the Royal Navy and saw action in the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific during World War II. Several elements of his funeral have a maritime theme, including the hymn “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” which is associated with seafarers and asks God: “O hear us when we cry to thee/For those in peril on the sea.”

Along with Philip’s children and grandchildren, the 30 funeral guests include other senior royals and several of his German relatives. Philip was born a prince of Greece and Denmark and, like the queen, is related to a thicket of European royal families.


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FBI says it interviewed FedEx mass shooter last year

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The shooter was identified as Brandon Scott Hole, 19, of Indianapolis, Deputy Police Chief Craig McCartt told a news conference. Investigators searched a home in Indianapolis associated with Hole and seized evidence, including desktop computers and other electronic media, McCartt said.

Hole began firing randomly at people in the parking lot of the FedEx facility late Thursday, killing four, before entering the building, fatally shooting four more people and then turning the gun on himself, McCartt said. He said he did not know if Hole owned the gun legally.

“There was no confrontation with anyone that was there,” he said. “There was no disturbance, there was no argument. He just appeared to randomly start shooting.”

McCartt said the slayings took place in a matter of minutes, and that there were at least 100 people in the facility at the time. Many were changing shifts or were on their dinner break, he said. Several people were wounded, including five who were taken to the hospital.

“You deserved so much better than this,” a man who identified himself as the grandson of Johal tweeted Friday evening. Johal had planned to work a double shift Thursday so she could take Friday off, according to the grandson, who would not give his full name but identifies himself as “Komal” on his Twitter page. Johal later decided to grab her check and go home, and still had the check in her hand when police found her, Komal said.

“(What) a harsh and cruel world we live in,” he added.

Smith, the youngest of the victims, was last in contact with her family shortly before 11 p.m. Thursday, family members said in social media posts late Friday. Dominique Troutman, Smith’s sister, waited hours at the Holiday Inn for an update on her sister. “Words can’t even explain how I feel. … I’m so hurt,” Troutman said in a Facebook post Friday night.

Weisert had been working as a bag handler at FedEx for four years, his wife, Carol, told WISH-TV. The couple was married nearly 50 years.

President Joe Biden said he had been briefed on the shooting and called gun violence “an epidemic” in the U.S.

“Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation,” he said in a statement. Later, he tweeted, “We can, and must, do more to reduce gun violence and save lives.”

A FedEx employee said he was working inside the building Thursday night when he heard several gunshots in rapid succession.

“I see a man come out with a rifle in his hand and he starts firing and he starts yelling stuff that I could not understand,” Levi Miller told WTHR-TV. “What I ended up doing was ducking down to make sure he did not see me because I thought he would see me and he would shoot me.”

Paul Keenan, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Indianapolis field office, said Friday that agents questioned Hole last year after his mother called police to say that her son might commit “suicide by cop.” He said the FBI was called after items were found in Hole’s bedroom but he did not elaborate on what they were. He said agents found no evidence of a crime and that they did not identify Hole as espousing a racially motivated ideology. A police report obtained by The Associated Press shows that officers seized a pump-action shotgun from Hole’s home after responding to the mother’s call. Keenan said the gun was never returned.

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McCartt said Hole was a former employee of FedEx and last worked for the company in 2020. The deputy police chief said he did not know why Hole left the job or if he had ties to the workers in the facility. He said police have not yet uncovered a motive for the shooting.

Police Chief Randal Taylor noted that a “significant” number of employees at the FedEx facility are members of the Sikh community, and the Sikh Coalition later issued a statement saying it was “sad to confirm” that at least four of those killed were community members.

The coalition, which identifies itself as the largest Sikh civil rights organization in the U.S., said in the statement that it expected authorities to “conduct a full investigation — including the possibility of bias as a factor.”

Varun Nikore, executive director of the AAPI Victory Alliance, a national advocacy group for Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, said in a statement that the shootings marked “yet another senseless massacre that has become a daily occurrence in this country.”

Nikore remarked that gun violence in the U.S. “is reflective of all of the spineless politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby.”

FedEx Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Frederick Smith called the shooting a “senseless act of violence.”

“This is a devastating day, and words are hard to describe the emotions we all feel,” he wrote in an email to employees.

The killings marked the latest in a string of recent mass shootings across the country and the third mass shooting this year in Indianapolis. Five people, including a pregnant woman, were shot and killed in the city in January, and a man was accused of killing three adults and a child before abducting his daughter during at argument at a home in March. In other states last month, eight people were fatally shot at massage businesses in the Atlanta area, and 10 died in gunfire at a supermarket in Boulder, Colorado.

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said the community must guard against resignation and “the assumption that this is simply how it must be and we might as well get used to it.”


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Gaetz ex-girlfriend feared alleged sex-trafficking victim taped call for feds

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Gaetz’s former girlfriend has played a bit role in the unfolding public drama — she is the woman who sent the lawmaker a nude video of her performing a hula hoop dance that he showed to other members of Congress.

But two of her friends, who declined to be identified publicly because of the sensational nature of the case, say she now suspects she was being set up when the alleged victim and another woman involved in the case called her to discuss the lawmaker in what she fears might have been a recorded conference call. The call took place sometime after Greenberg was indicted for the sex crime in August.

The friends did not provide details about exactly what was discussed, but one recounted that Gaetz’s ex-girlfriend said she was opposed to talking to authorities and is now worried that prosecutors might try to charge her with obstructing justice in order to get to Gaetz.

Tim Jansen, an attorney for Gaetz’s former girlfriend, declined to comment about his client. Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, also declined to talk. Gaetz has strongly denied allegations he engaged in any sex crimes.

The three women on the call were all present on a September 2018 trip to the Bahamas that authorities think may shed light on the allegations against Gaetz. Also present on that trip: Gaetz and two other Florida Republican political players, former Orlando-area aviation authority member and Gov. Ron DeSantis fundraiser Jason Pirozzolo and former state Rep. Halsey Beshears.

POLITICO is withholding the names of the women who went to the Bahamas, including his ex-girlfriend, because of the sensitive nature of the case and the allegations that while there, some of the women engaged in prostitution.

As the investigation intensified this winter, Beshears abruptly resigned in January as Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary — a post that made him the state’s top business regulator — noting he had contracted Covid-19. About that time, federal authorities seized the iPhones of Gaetz and his former girlfriend.

Federal authorities are examining the Bahamas trip to see if it violated the Mann Act, which forbids transporting people across state lines to engage in prostitution. One woman on the trip told POLITICO that no one engaged in prostitution.

The alleged victim in the sex-trafficking case had turned 18 almost nine months before the Bahamas trip. But Gaetz has acknowledged he’s the subject of a federal investigation into whether he had improper involvement with her as a 17-year-old.

A source familiar with the investigation wouldn’t say whether the alleged victim was cooperating with authorities. But when asked if she has been talking for months with the federal government, the source said “100 percent.”

While the alleged sex-trafficking victim is key to the case against Greenberg and the allegations against Gaetz, the lawmaker’s ex-girlfriend could play a pivotal role in the investigation of the trip, as well as other related controversies.

Gaetz was criticized for allegedly showing the hula hoop video to congressional colleagues, and he was also accused of engaging in revenge porn against his former girlfriend. But two of her friends say the woman, in her early 20s, did not object to him showing it to friends — provided he didn’t send it to others or post it on social media — because she was proud of her appearance and performance.

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“This is the best I will ever look in my life,” a friend who saw the video recalled her saying. “That’s how she is. It’s not revenge porn.”

The former girlfriend first met Gaetz while she attended college in the Orlando area in 2017. Greenberg, who established contact with her on the SeekingArrangement website — a dating website that connects women with so-called sugar daddies — made the connection. Soon after, she began dating Gaetz, although the relationship was not exclusive, friends said.

Gaetz later got her a job interning in the office of another Republican member of Congress, but that member let her go when it was discovered she was a Democrat, according to Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who promptly hired her when Gaetz told him of the matter.

Soto, who is not involved in the investigation, would not name the Republican lawmaker or comment about the case. But he said the woman was a hard worker in his office and that he had no complaints about her, other than some inquiries about whether Gaetz’s relationship with the intern was inappropriate.

“We wanted to protect her privacy from the media. She was just an intern,” Soto said. “I’ll also say she was fired by a Republican for being a Democrat. I found it offensive that she was fired for her political beliefs.”

Gaetz and the ex-girlfriend continued to date until well after the Bahamas trip in 2018. Friends said the two remained on good terms, although she was a source of friction between the lawmaker and Beshears. Beshears had apparently been taking her out on dates in Tallahassee, including a trip to the Florida State University president’s skybox at Doak Campbell Stadium, mutual friends said.

At the time, Beshears had recently been left by another girlfriend after she learned about the Bahamas trip. Beshears, then a state legislator, had flown several of the women on his private plane, which was briefly detained by U.S. Customs upon its return to Florida for questioning about the ages of several of the young women on the trip.

“Here was Halsey with three young women who could have been his daughters, and a Customs agent was like, ‘Whoa, what’s going on here?‘” said a source who was familiar with the incident.

Speaking to the partying group and the drama surrounding them, a different mutual friend said: “Tallahassee is like high school. But no one ever graduates.”


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