A county official will file an ethics complaint after a longtime lieutenant to Gov. Andrew Cuomo called executives in recent weeks to gauge their loyalty to the governor amid sexual harassment and misconduct allegations, a report said Sunday.
Larry Schwartz, who formerly held the highly influential position of secretary to the governor and is now overseeing New York’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, undertook the phone campaign in the past two weeks as more than a half-dozen women have come forward to accuse Cuomo of inappropriate remarks or behavior.
“At best, it was inappropriate,” the executive told The Washington Post on condition of anonymity, voicing concerns that their county’s access to the vaccine might hinge on their response to Schwartz. “At worst, it was clearly over the ethical line.”
That official on Friday alerted the public integrity unit of the state attorney general’s office that they intended to file an ethics complaint over the call.
Schwartz, who is also an MTA board member, urged the executive to reserve judgment on the allegations until the conclusion of a probe by the attorney general’s office, and asked them to keep him apprised of their thoughts on the matter, the official said.
“This is putting me in an impossible position where I potentially have to choose between like a weird political loyalty to a governor who controls a lot of things, not just vaccine, and is known to be vindictive, and on the other side, doses of lifesaving vaccine every week for my residents who are literally desperate for them,” the executive told The Washington Post.
In several statements to the broadsheet, Schwartz openly acknowledged that he made the calls, but insisted he did so solely as a longtime friend of Cuomo, completely independent of his responsibility heading the vaccine rollout.
“I did nothing wrong,” Schwartz told The Washington Post, describing the conversations as “cordial, respectful and friendly.”
“They were hearing from me as someone who has [known] the Governor for 30 years and someone who has been involved in NYS Government and Politics for about the same time.”
Schwartz stressed that no one refused to take his calls, or indicated to him that they were uncomfortable.
“Everyone took my call or called me back,” he added. “NOBODY indicated they were uncomfortable discussing with me or thought it was inappropriate.”
Though at least some of the calls came just prior to the March 8 announcement of 10 new mass vaccination sites across the state, Schwartz said that officials’ reception to the calls had no bearing on which areas were designated for inoculation centers.
Schwartz said that he alone does not make the decision on new vaccination sites, and that the calls are “based on merit, data and facts and not politics.”
Asked by The Washington Post if he had taken the required ethics oath for public officers of the state, Schwartz referred comment to an attorney, who did not immediately respond.
Other county officials who received the calls told the paper that, while they were not as troubled as the executive who contacted the AG’s office, Schwartz should have known better.
“Looking back on it, Larry probably wasn’t the best person to make a call like that,” said a second county executive, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Added an official from another county, who also declined to be identified, “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.”
Schwartz stressed that he made the calls of his own volition, with no urging from Albany.
“Any assertion or implication that this was a failing on the part of Larry Schwartz is simply false,” Beth Garvey, special counsel to Cuomo, told The Washington Post in a statement.
Garvey added that, because Schwartz is technically volunteering as vaccination czar, he is not required to take the ethics oath, under a Cuomo executive order to facilitate people pitching in amid the pandemic.
The AG’s office did not respond to a request for comment from the paper.