Cuomo’s vaccine chief called local officials to gauge their loyalty to him, reports say
A longtime advisor to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who leads the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been calling county executives to gauge their loyalty to the Democratic governor amid a sexual harassment investigation, according to new reports.
One Democratic county executive, who was not named in the reports, was so disturbed by the call from vaccine “czar” Larry Schwartz that the executive filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the public integrity unit of the state attorney general’s office Friday, the Washington Post and New York Times reported Sunday.
The executive feared the county’s vaccine supply could suffer if the executive did not indicate support for Cuomo, the Post reported.
Schwartz served as secretary to the governor from 2011 until 2015 and has advised Cuomo off and on since then. He returned last spring to assist the administration with its response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schwartz, who is working in a volunteer capacity to run New York’s vaccine distribution, acknowledged making the calls to county executives, but told the Post he did not discuss vaccines in the conversations.
“I did nothing wrong,” Schwartz told the newspaper. “I have always conducted myself in a manner [conforming] to a high ethical standard.”
President Biden has passed up an opportunity to join other Democrats calling for the resignation of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
But the phone calls could raise questions about a mingling of politics with the state’s coronavirus response.
“People do not see calls coming from the governor’s mansion as somebody wearing one hat and then putting on another hat,” Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told the Post. “If you are in control of a vital supply of a lifesaving resource like vaccines, you are carrying an enormous amount of implicit clout when you ask for political allegiance.”
Cuomo is facing allegations that he sexually harassed or behaved inappropriately toward six women, including several former staffers. He has denied touching any women inappropriately.
The three-term governor has rejected calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats, including New York’s two U.S. senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and has asked New Yorkers to await the results of an investigation headed by state Atty. Gen. Letitia James.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has urged New Yorkers to ‘wait for the facts,’ while leaders in the state Assembly have announced an impeachment investigation.
Schwartz told the Post that the calls he made to assess political support for Cuomo were distinct from the role he plays in the vaccination effort.
“I did have conversations with a number of County Executives from across the State to ascertain if they were maintaining their public position that there is an ongoing investigation by the State Attorney General and that we should wait for the findings of that investigation before drawing any conclusions,” he wrote in an email.
Beth Garvey, acting counsel to the governor, said in a statement to the Associated Press on Sunday that any assertion that Schwartz “acted in any way unethically or in any way other than in the best interest of the New Yorkers that he selflessly served is patently false.”
“Larry answered our call to volunteer in March and has since then worked night and day to help New York through this pandemic, first managing surge capacity, and procuring necessary supplies for the state, setting up the contact tracing efforts, and now assisting with vaccine distribution,” the statement said.
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