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New Cuomo Controversy: Vaccine Czar Calls County Executives To Gauge Their Loyalty To Governor

Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a news briefing on Wednesday, March 3.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a news briefing on Wednesday, March 3. Photo Credit: flickr/New York Governor's Office

Embattled New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration took another hit as reports have emerged that one of his longest-serving and most-trusted advisers who is now serving COVID-19 vaccine czar made calls to Democratic county executives to gauge support for the three-term governor before discussing the state's vaccine program and distribution.

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On Sunday, March 14, both The New York Times and Washington Post reported that Larry Schwartz, who is overseeing the state’s vaccination efforts, made calls to county officials to check on Cuomo’s support and discuss ongoing immunization efforts.

The reports state that some officials are concerned that their vaccine supply could suffer if they do not express support for Cuomo.

The latest scandal comes as Cuomo navigates multiple scandals, including claims of groping a woman, sexual harassment, and other inappropriate behavior since taking office.

Amid all the scandals, support for Cuomo has cratered, with calls for his resignation coming from both sides of the aisle, including several top Democratic legislators. An impeachment inquiry has been opened by state lawmakers, and Attorney General Letitia James has an ongoing investigation into the sexual harassment allegations.

According to the reports, one county executive said that Schwartz began the conversation by talking about Cuomo’s political situation before pivoting into a conversation about vaccination efforts and distribution.

Another official said that Schwartz called immediately after a different Cuomo administration official had called about vaccine distribution. That county executive filed a complaint with the attorney general office’s public integrity bureau about a possible violation by the governor’s office.

“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,” one official said.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said that he had spoken to Schwartz, but the conversation never turned to vaccine distribution.

“Last Friday, I had a conversation with Larry Schwartz who reached out to discuss whether I was supportive of the Governor,” he said. “I explained that there were serious allegations made and that I was supportive of an independent investigation.

“At no point did the topic of vaccine distribution come up during the call.” 

Schwartz, who is working as a volunteer to run New York's vaccine rollout, acknowledged making the calls to county executives, but told the Post he did not discuss vaccines in the conversations.

“I did nothing wrong,” he said. “I have always conducted myself in a manner commensurate to a high ethical standard.”

Beth Garvey, acting counsel to the governor, said any suggestion that Schwartz acted unethically 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,” she said in a statement. “First managing surge capacity, and procuring necessary supplies for the state, setting up the contract tracing efforts, and now assisting with vaccine distribution.”

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