NY vaccine leader called officials to determine loyalty to Cuomo amid allegations
One executive 'unsettled' by Larry Schwartz's call filed a complaint with Attorney General Letitia James' office.
A new report says that a longtime adviser to Andrew Cuomo called officials to determine their loyalty to the governor of New York amid allegations that he sexually harassed several female staff members.
According to The Washington Post, Larry Schwartz, who is the head of the state’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, called multiple county officials over the past two weeks to assess if they remained loyal to Cuomo.
One county executive said that he was “unsettled” by the call and filed an ethics complaint against Schwartz with the public integrity unit of state Attorney General Letitia James’ office. He said he feared that his county’s vaccine supply could be jeopardized if his answers to Schwartz’s questions were not to his liking.
“At best, it was inappropriate,” the executive told The Post under the condition of anonymity. “At worst, it was clearly over the ethical line.”
The executive said the questions came close to a separate conversation about vaccine distribution which raised concerns.
Schwartz, who served as Cuomo’s secretary from 2011 to 2015, is now a volunteer helping to oversee the state’s vaccine distribution program. He told The Post he did ask questions about Cuomo but did not discuss vaccines in those conversations.
“I did nothing wrong,” Schwartz claimed. “I have always conducted myself in a manner commensurate to a high ethical standard.”
The new allegations for James to look into add to a pile of ongoing Cuomo-related investigations. An independent probe into sexual harassment claims, as well as an inquiry into the management of elderly residents of state-run nursing homes amid the height of the coronavirus pandemic, has created a crisis in the governor’s office.
Schwartz told the newspaper nothing about his calls was inappropriate.
“I did have conversations with several 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 wrote in an emailed statement. He described the calls as “cordial, respectful and friendly.”
However, a director of medical ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine told The Post Schwartz’s calls potentially crossed lines.
“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,” said Arthur Caplan. “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.”