A longtime adviser New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), who is known as the governor’s “vaccine czar,” placed calls to county officials in the past two weeks to inquire about their loyalty to the embattled governor amid an ongoing sexual harassment investigation, following a slew of allegations that have led many congressional Democrats to call for his resignation.
According to the Washington Post on Sunday, Larry Schwartz, who works in a volunteer capacity to run New York’s vaccine distribution and is a 30-year friend of Cuomo, called state Democratic leaders and asked them to support the governor amid discussing immunization-related matters.
The Post reported that a Democratic county executive filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the public integrity unit of the state Attorney General’s office after Schwartz’s calls to county officials. The executive was concerned over the county’s vaccine supply becoming dependent on Schwartz’s satisfaction with county officials’ support of Cuomo.
“At best, it was inappropriate,” the executive told the Post. “At worst, it was clearly over the ethical line.”
Schwartz confirmed the calls but denied any wrongdoing to the Post, saying that he has always conducted himself “in a manner commensurate to a high ethical standard.”
Schwartz’s called county officials ahead of a March 8 announcement by Cuomo’s office regarding 10 new mass vaccination sites in the state.
Schwartz repeatedly insisted to the Post in several emails on Saturday that the calls that were intended to gauge support for Cuomo are independent of his role in leading the state’s vaccine distribution effort.
“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,” Schwartz wrote, according to the Post.
Schwartz told the Post that the calls were “cordial, respectful and friendly” and that he did not receive indications of any of the county executives feeling “uncomfortable or that they did not want to talk to me.”
According to the Post, Schwartz said decisions on mass vaccination sites aren’t determined by one individual, but that members of the governor’s vaccine task force and outside consultants get to weigh in on the matter “based on merit, data and facts and not politics.”
Several public officials who received the calls from Schwartz told the Post that Cuomo’s “vaccine czar” seemed to take stock of their support for the governor while urging them to let the state investigation into the sexual harassment allegations against Cuomo play out.
“Looking back on it, Larry probably wasn’t the best person to make a call like that,” one unnamed official, who did not view Schwartz’s calls as an explicit threat, told the Post.
Another unnamed official told the Post that they felt similarly about Schwartz’s calls in that they didn’t believe there was correlation between their answer regarding their support for Cuomo and their county’s vaccine supply. However, the official said that they “could see how maybe someone else maybe got that impression.”
The Post’s report comes days after both of the state’s senators, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), called for Cuomo’s resignation, citing the multiple allegations of sexual misconduct levied against him in recent weeks.
Cuomo has denied the allegations and refuses to step down. The embattled governor has brushed off the accusations as part of a “cancel culture” that is “dangerous” and “reckless,” while insisting that his critics wait for the state attorney general’s investigation into the harassment allegations to play out.
On Sunday, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, who called for Cuomo to resign, told CBS that believes that the governor will “try to hold out” but that by doing so he is “holding up our effort to fight COVID.”
De Blasio also thinks that an impeachment proceeding against Cuomo will happen, but that the New York governor would perhaps resign right before he would officially be impeached.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tells @margbrennan embattled NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo is "literally in the way of us saving lives" by refusing to resign amid harassment allegations. @NYCMayor adds Cuomo will "try to hold out" and is "used to getting things his way." pic.twitter.com/T1R9Po9JUT
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) March 14, 2021
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), on the other hand, stopped short of calling for Cuomo’s resignation during an interview on ABC Sunday. Pelosi said that the accusers “deserve to hear the results” of investigations into the allegations, which are “credible and serious charges.”
Following calls for his resignation, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says New York Governor Andrew Cuomo "should look inside his heart… to see if he can govern effectively." https://t.co/h5sIQu1Wye pic.twitter.com/sDL9EEvFEn
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) March 14, 2021