The head of New York’s vaccine-distribution effort called county officials to assess their loyalty to Governor Andrew Cuomo amid burgeoning scandals, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.
Longtime Cuomo adviser Larry Schwartz, who is leading New York’s vaccine rollout, reportedly spoke with county executives over the past two weeks regarding their position on the sexual-harassment allegations made against the governor. However, a Democratic county executive said he would file an ethics complaint over the call, because he feared the state could reduce vaccine supply to the county if he did not express loyalty to Cuomo.
“At best, it was inappropriate. . . . At worst, it was clearly over the ethical line,” the official told the Post regarding the call. The executive spoke on condition of anonymity for fear his county would face retaliation from the Cuomo administration.
Schwartz’s calls to county officials were made before Cuomo’s office announced plans for ten new vaccine distribution facilities on March 8. Other officials confirmed on condition of anonymity that Schwartz contacted them, although not all viewed Schwartz’s outreach as an implicit threat.
“I didn’t feel that there was correlation between the answer I was going to give and my vaccine supply,” one official said. “But I could see how maybe someone else maybe got that impression.”
Schwartz commented that plans for vaccination sites were made “based on merit, data and facts and not politics.” The adviser confirmed that his calls were made 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.”
Seven women have accused Cuomo of sexual harassment over the past several weeks. One alleges that the governor groped her under her blouse at the Executive Mansion last year, in a claim that has been referred to Albany police. A majority of New York’s Democratic congressional delegation, as well as Democratic senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, have called on Cuomo to resign.
The governor also faces scrutiny over his administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in state nursing homes. Cuomo’s March 25, 2020, executive order mandating that nursing homes admit residents discharged from hospitals but still testing positive for coronavirus likely resulted in several hundred to 1,000 additional deaths, according to an analysis by the Empire Center, an Albany-based think tank.
Cuomo has refused to resign, implying on Friday that he is a victim of “cancel culture.” New York lawmakers have acknowledged that it would be difficult to force Cuomo out of office.
“If you abuse your power, it’s time to go,” State Senator Alessandra Biaggi (D., Westchester) said during a conversation on the Clubhouse app, but added that lawmakers would need a “motherf***ing army” to oust the governor.