New York Governor Andrew Cuomo‘s ‘vaccine czar’ has admitted to calling up county officials to gauge their support for the embattled Democrat, leading to concerns that distribution of doses could be tied to political support.
Larry Schwartz, head of the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, admitted to the Washington Post that he made the phone calls, but insisted his political outreach was entirely separate from the vaccine plan.
It comes as Cuomo faces deepening isolation, after a flood of sexual harassment allegations on top of accusations that his administration covered up pandemic death statistics in the state’s nursing homes.
As prominent Democrats across the state call on Cuomo to resign, Schwartz made calls to county officials to feel out their support for the governor.
Larry Schwartz (left), head of the New York’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, called local officials to gauge their support for embattled Governor Andrew Cuomo
Cuomo faces deepening isolation, after a flood of sexual harassment allegations on top of accusations that his administration covered up pandemic death statistics in nursing homes
The calls were so unsettling to one Democratic county executive that the local official filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the public integrity unit of the state attorney general’s office.
The county executive was fearful that the county’s vaccine supply would be cut off in retaliation by a vengeful Cuomo, the person told the Post.
‘At best, it was inappropriate,’ said the executive, who asked not to be named for fear of retaliation. ‘At worst, it was clearly over the ethical line.’
‘This is putting me in an impossible position where I potentially have to choose between like a weird political loyalty to a governor who controls a lot of things, not just vaccine, and is known to be vindictive, and on the other side, doses of lifesaving vaccine every week for my residents who are literally desperate for them,’ the person said.
Schwartz said that he made the phone calls as a longtime supporter of Cuomo, and did not discuss vaccines on the calls.
‘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 said in a statement to the Post.
One county executive was fearful after Schwartz’s call that the county’s vaccine supply would be cut off in retaliation by a vengeful Cuomo. Above, Schwarzt is seen with Cuomo
Vaccines are administered in New York. Schwartz insisted that the state’s vaccine plan is based on population figures and a county’s administration rate
‘I did nothing wrong,’ Schwartz said. ‘I have always conducted myself in a manner commensurate to a high ethical standard.’
Schwartz is one of Cuomo’s longtime aides, and served as secretary to the governor from 2011 to 2015.
He joined the administration last spring to help in the state’s pandemic response, and has been one of Cuomo’s closest advisors, even moving into the governor’s mansion at one point during the crisis.
Schwartz insisted that the state’s vaccine plan is based solely on population figures and a county’s administration rate.
‘It’s not based on favoritism, politics or anything else,’ he told the Post, also protesting the fact that his ‘accuser’ was speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Cuomo has long been accused of practicing a vindictive brand of politics.
Ron Kim, a New York state assemblyman, in February accused Cuomo of threatening to ‘destroy’ him over his criticism of the nursing home deaths scandal. Cuomo’s aides deny the threat.
On Friday, Cuomo rejected calls to resign on a call with reporters, vowing to remain in office. He was later seen pacing the grounds of the governor’s mansion in Albany huddled inside a blanket.
Cuomo was seen pacing the grounds of the governor’s mansion in Albany huddled inside a blanket on Friday
Leaders in the state Assembly on Thursday announced an impeachment investigation, a first step toward potentially removing Cuomo from office.
If Cuomo were impeached by the Assembly, state law might force him to step aside immediately – a dramatic difference from what happens when the U.S. president is impeached.
A section of the state’s judicial code regarding impeachment states: ‘No officer shall exercise his office, after articles of impeachment against him shall have been delivered to the senate, until he is acquitted.’
According to the state constitution, the lieutenant governor would then take over.
Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul has maintained a low profile amid the furor, as she has throughout Cuomo’s term.
Even politically astute New Yorkers know little about Hochul, a former town council member in Hamburg who later served as the Erie County Clerk. She also served 18 months in Congress after winning a special election, but failed to secure reelection.
Hochul briefly acknowledged the storm swirling around Cuomo on Tuesday, issuing a statement expressing faith in the state attorney general’s independent investigation into his workplace conduct.
‘I trust the inquiry to be completed as thoroughly and expeditiously as possible,’ she wrote. ‘New Yorkers should be confident that through this process they will soon learn the facts.’