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“We have heard reported over and over again that there is not a Queens candidate running for mayor. That is not true. I am the Queens candidate,” Adams, who grew up in Queens, told its Democratic county organization at a virtual forum earlier this month. “This is a borough that is dear to my heart.”

Two weeks later, Rep. Greg Meeks, who runs the Queens Democratic party, announced the organization’s district leaders had not reached consensus around a single candidate and would skip endorsing in the race to replace outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio. His counterparts in Brooklyn and the Bronx are charting a similar path — all three so far declining to get behind any of the contenders four months before the June 22 primary.

The abdication by the county parties — which at one time had viable organizations in three of the city’s five boroughs — marks another demonstration of the local Democratic organizations’ recession from their once-powerful role at the center of New York City politics.

No longer are party leaders able to corral — or dictate, depending on one’s perspective — votes for citywide candidates, leaving them without position in one of the most consequential local elections in modern memory.

“The counties are in a very difficult, if not impossible, position,” said city-based lobbyist George Fontas, who hails from South Brooklyn. With four months to go, the field is too crowded and too uncertain — the unavoidable consequence of a new campaign finance system and ranked-choice voting — to confidently pick a winner, he reasoned.

With a crucial deadline coming up to get on the ballot, the parties are likely to sit out one of their most important roles in the city’s electoral process.

“Time is running out and is of the essence,” said Jason Laidley, chief of staff to Bronx Democratic leader and state Sen. Jamaal Bailey, referring to the March 2 start of collecting signatures to secure a spot on the ballot. The local party has still not gotten behind a candidate.

In Brooklyn, Democrats are mired in a civil war between old-guard allies and left-leaning reformers. The breach has stalled an endorsement of Adams, even as the county party’s lawyer openly supports the borough president’s campaign.

A spokesman for the party, George Arzt, said it is “simply too early for county party leaders to endorse mayoral candidates” and added they are “grappling with the ravages of the pandemic” and too focused on constituent services to endorse until later in the cycle.

Discord in the Brooklyn Democratic party has become so severe it led to a 13-hour virtual showdown in December, captured in video snippets of party elders silencing reformers by automatically muting their mics. The standoff over the party’s byzantine bylaws is now in the hands of the courts.

Meeks, who is reportedly fond of Wall Street executive Ray McGuire in the mayor’s race, is wrestling with several divisions in Queens, including a bloc of support for Adams countered by a growing presence of far-left activists more inclined to back a politically concordant candidate, according to several people familiar with the matter.

“I don’t understand why the parties would not embrace these movements of new blood,” Derek Evers, a district leader in Queens’ Ridgewood and Long Island City neighborhoods, said in an interview.

In the Bronx, Bailey is finding his footing following a leadership shakeup last year. Shortly after Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. dropped out of the mayoral race, party chair Marcos Crespo stepped down and opted not to run for reelection to the state Assembly. Bailey has been calling district leaders and politicians to assess their preferences in the upcoming primary but has found little consensus, Laidley said.

Looming over party leaders is the longstanding cold war between Adams, a mainstay in city Democratic politics whom they might otherwise be inclined to support, and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries — a rising star in Washington, whom they are uninclined to cross.

Given the messy landscape, the leaders have decided to focus on other elections this year: Surrogate court contests, City Council faceoffs and the race for comptroller.

“An endorsement of one [mayoral] candidate at this juncture, when they’re all viable candidates, could cause a major fracture in the county parties and they don’t want to do that. So smarter to let things play out,” Fontas said.

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In 2013, each party endorsed four months before the primary, allowing them time to assist candidates in gathering signatures and potentially challenging their opponents’ petitions.

There are more than two dozen people running for mayor, and at least eight would appear to have a viable path, given the unpredictable role ranked-choice voting will play in the election. Among those, several candidates have put elbow grease into winning over county leaders, despite their losing track record in the last open mayoral election in 2013.

Frontrunner Andrew Yang held a private, 30-minute Zoom call with Meeks to make a final pitch the weekend before the congressman declined to endorse in the race, according to a campaign aide. Yang, who has skipped many of the nightly forums, made sure to appear at one hosted by the Brooklyn Democratic party earlier this month.

He has made his deepest inroads in the Bronx, where he lunched with the borough president at a famed Italian restaurant this week, toured the Council district of a party loyalist and hired Stanley Schlein, the county organization’s lawyer.

The Brooklyn party has all but endorsed Adams. County leader Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn’s close ally on the City Council, Farah Louis, recently backed the borough president, and county attorney Frank Carone has donated to his campaign. So have Carone’s relatives, as well as 35 other people who live in his neighborhood and contributed a total of $28,930 to Adams’ campaign, according to a POLITICO analysis of donations.

Adams’ pitch that he is the “Queens candidate” may not have earned him Meeks’ backing, but he did clinch a lineup of endorsements from City Council Member and party loyalist Francisco Moya and six district leaders last week.

Standing in his way is McGuire, who donated the maximum contribution to Meeks’ 2020 reelection effort. McGuire set his sights on the prized voting bloc in Southeast Queens early, hiring a political consultant with long ties to the area and dining at Sangria’s in Jamaica with state Sen. Leroy Comrie. During a recent Zoom forum, Comrie rushed to McGuire’s defense when one of Adams’ surrogates lobbed criticisms at him.

Even Maya Wiley — who is pitching herself to liberal, reform-minded voters — signaled her desire for county party support Before she entered the race, the attorney and former de Blasio adviser trekked to the Bronx for Caribbean cuisine with Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, the former county leader who still holds considerable sway. Wiley also personally called Bichotte Hermelyn to pitch her candidacy, according to a campaign aide.

One leading contender who has no evident path to county support is City Comptroller Scott Stringer, whose native Manhattan lacks a strong Democratic organization.

Despite being a career politician, Stringer alienated county leaders by backing Tiffany Cabán’s unsuccessful bid in the 2019 Queens district attorney race against party favorite Melinda Katz. He also supported the winning bids of upstart challengers to incumbent state lawmakers across the city and furthered his rift with Heastie by siding against him on a legislative pay raise committee.

The atrophying of the county organizations’ electoral muscle began long before 2018, when Ocasio-Cortez routed a Queens party boss in an upset.

In 2009, the labor-backed Working Families Party reached into districts that county leaders thought were securely in their grasp and tossed out their favored candidates. City Council members Danny Dromm and Jimmy Van Bramer defeated the party’s choices in Queens, and Jumaane Williams, now the city’s public advocate, ousted a party-backed incumbent in Central Brooklyn.

It was a marked disappointment for the once-powerful leaders in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx, whose control had previously eclipsed breakaway factions.

The county leaders suffered another series of setbacks in 2013 — first in backing mayoral candidates who lost to de Blasio in the September primary and then failing to secure their pick for speaker of the City Council, Dan Garodnick.




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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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