NEW YORK – A longtime adviser to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo leading the state's COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been calling county executives to gauge their loyalty to the Democratic governor amid a sexual harassment investigation, according to reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times.
One Democratic county executive, who was not named by the newspapers, was so disturbed by the call from vaccine “czar” Larry Schwartz that the executive filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the public integrity unit of the state attorney general’s office on Friday, the newspapers reported.
The executive feared the county’s vaccine supply could suffer if the executive did not indicate support for Cuomo, the Post reported.
Schwartz served as secretary to the governor from 2011 until 2015 and has advised Cuomo off and on since then. He returned last spring to assist the administration with the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Schwartz, who is working in a volunteer capacity to run New York’s vaccine distribution, acknowledged making the calls to county executives, but told the Post he did not discuss vaccines in the conversations.
“I did nothing wrong,” Schwartz told the newspaper. “I have always conducted myself in a manner commensurate to a high ethical standard.”
But the phone calls could raise questions about an intermingling of politics with the state’s coronavirus response.
“People do not see calls coming from the governor’s mansion as somebody wearing one hat and then putting on another hat,” Arthur Caplan, 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."