Larry Schwartz, a longtime adviser to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York's vaccine czar, has raised eyebrows after calling county officials around the state to gauge loyalty to the embattled governor amid the nursing home cover-up and sexual misconduct allegations.
"At best, it was inappropriate," a Democrat county executive told The Washington Post after calls made by Schwartz, who leads New York's oft-criticized vaccine distribution effort. "At worst, it was clearly over the ethical line."
The executive asked to remain anonymous, fearing retribution from the Cuomo administration – including potential restriction on access to vaccines – and amid a Friday notice of an ethics complaint, according to the Post.
"I did nothing wrong," Schwartz, a longtime Cuomo ally, told the Post, calling the conversations personal in nature and not related to vaccine rollouts. "I have always conducted myself in a manner commensurate to a high ethical standard."
Schwartz served as a secretary to the governor from 2011-2015, but is now working on a volunteer basis to aid the vaccine distribution in the state after becoming a point man on the coronavirus outbreak in the state last year.
"People do not see calls coming from the governor's mansion as somebody wearing one hat and then putting on another hat," NYU Grossman School of Medicine Director of Ethics Arthur Caplan told the Post. "If you are in control of a vital supply of a life-saving resource like vaccines, you are carrying an enormous amount of implicit clout when you ask for political allegiance.
"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."
Critics might even see it as a pseudo political pay for play scheme.
"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 emailed the Post on Saturday.
The calls were "cordial, respectful, and friendly," he said.
"Nobody indicated that they were uncomfortable or that they did not want to talk to me," he wrote, adding vaccine distribution is "based on merit, data and facts, and not politics."
But merely receiving a call was a matter of political affiliation, Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin suggested to the Post.
"He didn't call me because he knew I would never say something nice about [Cuomo]," the longtime Cuomo critic told the Post.
Several other Republican county executives also told the Post they never received a call.
"There was no pressure and I never asked anyone to support the governor," Schwartz told the Post. "All I asked them was if their public position of calling for an independent investigation by the attorney general and waiting for the outcome of her report had changed.
"It's not based on favoritism, politics or anything else."
Schwartz did express in the emails to the Post concern the seventh accuser is making allegations anonymously.
"Looking back on it, Larry probably wasn't the best person to make a call like that," one Democrat executive told the Post.
Another from another county added to the Post, "I didn't feel that there was correlation between the answer I was going to give and my vaccine supply. But I could see how maybe someone else maybe got that impression."
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