A longtime adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who is overseeing the state’s vaccination efforts pressed county officials on their loyalty to the governor over the past weeks, The Washington Post reports.
Larry Schwartz, the state’s Covid vaccine czar who has been friends with Cuomo for decades, raised concerns that counties’ vaccine supplies may suffer if their leaders were insufficiently loyal to the embattled governor, a Democratic county executive said.
“At best, it was inappropriate,” the official said. “At worst, it was clearly over the ethical line.”
The outreach came as the number of women accusing Cuomo of sexual harassment rose to seven, though Cuomo has denied wrongdoing and apologized for making people feel uncomfortable.
The scandal broke after a New York attorney general report found that Cuomo’s administration undercounted nursing home deaths by nearly 50%.
Schwartz denies wrongdoing:
Schwartz, who is running the vaccine rollout on a volunteer basis, told the Post that he reached out to county officials as a longtime friend to the governor but did not discuss vaccines.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said. “I have always conducted myself in a manner commensurate to a high ethical standard.”
Schwartz previously served as Cuomo’s top aide and later became an unofficial adviser and “enforcer.”
“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. “Nobody indicated that they were uncomfortable or that they did not want to talk to me.”
“Looking back on it, Larry probably wasn’t the best person to make a call like that,” a county official told the Post.
“I didn’t feel that there was correlation between the answer I was going to give and my vaccine supply,” another official said. “But I could see how maybe someone else maybe got that impression.”
“People do not see calls coming from the governor’s mansion as somebody wearing one hat and then putting on another hat,” Arthur Caplan, the 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. And you shouldn’t be doing that, anyway. The public health goal to maximize the best use of vaccines has nothing to do with any public declaration of political fealty. And it shouldn’t even be implied or hinted at.”