Outreach to local officials by Cuomo’s vaccine czar Larry Schwartz — as reported over the weekend by The Washington Post and New York Times — raised alarms because of the perception that a county’s vaccine supply could be affected if they did not express sufficient support for the governor, though no official said Schwartz made any direct linkage between the two. Schwartz has said that vaccination site determinations are kept independent of his other entreaties.
“Nobody indicated that they were uncomfortable or that they did not want to talk to me,” he told The Washington Post.
At least one local official was so unnerved as to lodge notice of an impending ethics complaint with the state attorney general’s public integrity unit on Friday. The attorney general’s office is separately investigating recent allegations of sexual misconduct against the governor, a probe that’s being led by two outside attorneys.
On Monday at least two Democratic county executives confirmed that they had been contacted by Schwartz about Cuomo, but both said they did not feel the call crossed any ethical boundaries.
“At no time did I feel any pressure and the topic of vaccines never came up,” Monroe County Executive Adam Bello, who has called for Cuomo’s resignation, said in a statement.
Schwartz, who previously served as Cuomo’s top aide, has held numerous positions in and around state government in the years since leaving the governor’s office and is widely seen as a stand-in for the governor. He was brought in a year ago to assist with the state’s response to Covid-19 and his portfolio included overseeing the state’s efforts to procure ventilators and personal protective equipment, as well as the point man on vaccine allocations.
Schwartz has often played the role of bad cop for Cuomo, and has periodically caught flack for his unsparing tactics.
Cuomo’s office Monday afternoon released a statement defending Schwartz and saying he would “never link political support to public health decisions.”
“Any suggestion that Larry 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,” stated Beth Garvey, the governor’s acting counsel.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has leapt at opportunities to twist the knife on Cuomo after spending years as his punching bag, said Monday that Schwartz’s meddling needs to be investigated by either state or federal authorities.
“If vaccine supply is being given out for political reasons, that in many ways is the single worst thing we’ve heard on all of these scandals, and they’re all horrible, because it literally means some people may not get the help they need and may not live as a result,” he told reporters.