Published reports say a longtime adviser to Governor Andrew Cuomo who is leading New York’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been calling county executives to gauge their loyalty to the Democratic governor amid two sexual harassment investigations. There also are allegations the Cuomo administration mismanaged COVID nursing home data. The head of the state County Executives Association says a line was crossed.
The Washington Post and The New York Times report that one Democratic county executive was so disturbed by the call from vaccine “czar” Larry Schwartz that the executive filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the state attorney general’s office. Schwartz is Cuomo’s former top aide who returned to the fold on a volunteer basis during the pandemic.
Republican Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, who is president of the New York State County Executives Association, says he had a brief call with Schwartz Monday.
“I spoke only very briefly to Larry, expressed the concern that the organization has,” says Molinaro. “And I do expect that we’ll have a correspondence to the state outlining some of the transparency steps that we think are necessary, and have always felt are necessary, but definitely now moving forward.”
Beth Garvey is acting counsel to Governor Cuomo. In a statement she says, “Vaccine distribution in New York is based on objective criteria to ensure it matches eligible populations, ensure equity, and ability to rapidly administer shots in arms. To be clear, Larry's conversations did not bring up vaccine distribution -- he would never link political support to public health decisions. Distorting Larry's role or intentions for headlines maligns a decades long public servant who has done nothing but volunteer around the clock since March to help New York get through the COVID pandemic. 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."
Molinaro says some Democratic county executives phoned him after they heard from Schwartz.
“I received calls from several county executives, Democrat members, who received phone calls and felt everything from simply being just uncomfortable with the association, the affiliation between vaccine distribution and their, and this political question to those who really felt their own integrity was undermined and really troubled and, quite frankly, disgusted by it,” Molinaro says.
He says other county executives phoned New York State Association of Counties Executive Director Stephen Acquario with their concerns. Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, a Democrat, says he spoke briefly with Schwartz about the allegations and about where McCoy stood on them. The county executive has not called for Cuomo to resign, but does support investigations into the allegations.
“My interactions with the state right now has not brought me to that decision,” says McCoy. “If it gets to that point where I feel that the vaccine or my decisions with the governor’s office or in general are being derailed because of the circumstances he’s in, I will call for him to step down.”
Schwartz told The Washington Post he did not discuss vaccines in the conversations and said he did nothing wrong. Democratic Westchester County Executive George Latimer confirmed Sunday that Schwartz called him recently to gauge support for Cuomo, according to Lohud.com. Again, Molinaro:
“This is an individual who has a great deal of latitude in the distribution of vaccines and the establishment of vaccine sites and other vaccine resources. This is not the person who should be making phone calls about political loyalty or political questions,” Molinaro says. “And even if this was the person to have made those calls in the past, this is not the time for that person to be making those calls. It is a line that you cannot cross and cannot be blurred.”
In Rochester Monday, state Republican Party chair Nick Langworthy cited the story as he repeated calls for Cuomo to resign:
“They were afraid that their vaccine supply for their county would suffer if they didn’t stand up and stand with Governor Cuomo despite three large, dark scandals that hang over his administration,” Langworthy says.
Molinaro, who lost to Cuomo in 2018, is considering another run for governor next year.