Cuomo admin. defends New York vaccine czar amid allegations of asking officials about loyalty

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Denis Slattery, New York Daily News
·2 min read
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ALBANY — Larry Schwartz, the governor’s hand-picked COVID vaccine czar, is getting support from Cuomo’s administration amid reports he asked county officials about their loyalty to his boss amid allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

The longtime ally of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under fire for reportedly reaching out to local leaders in order to assess their support for the governor while also talking about COVID vaccines, something the White House dubbed “concerning” on Monday.

Cuomo’s acting counsel Beth Garvey pushed back on the reports.

“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,” she said in a statement. “To be clear, Larry’s conversations did not bring up vaccine distribution — he would never link political support to public health decisions.

“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,” she added.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki called the reports “concerning” and “inappropriate” earlier in the day.

“We work to ensure that it is equitably distributed and that there are not steps that are taken that are concerning,” Psaki told reporters. “So we were concerned, of course, about the reports of this inappropriate behavior, but we also have a number of steps in the system to ensure that the people of New York, the people of any state, the vaccines are being distributed fairly and equitably.”

Cuomo is facing an attorney general’s investigation into sexual harassment claims, a federal probe into his withholding the release of data on COVID nursing home deaths and a state Assembly impeachment inquiry.

Dozens of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have called on him to resign amid the swirling scandals.

Two county executives have said that Schwartz contacted them in recent weeks to talk about Cuomo’s perilous political situation and gauge support for the embattled governor, according to a report from The New York Times over the weekend.

During one of the calls, Schwartz changed gears to discuss vaccine distribution. On the other, Schwartz reached out immediately after another administration official had called the local leader about vaccine distribution.

One Dem county executive was so disturbed by the call they filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the state attorney general’s office.

New York Senate Republicans, meanwhile, sent a letter to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) urging Washington to assume control of New York State’s vaccination distribution program.

“It would be a gross understatement to suggest that having the same man carry out both roles simultaneously is a situation fraught with profound moral and ethical conflicts,” said Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt (R-Erie County). “What’s more, the legality of this arrangement is also highly questionable.”