"Cuomo's enforcer": NY's "vaccine czar" conducted loyalty checks on county officials after scandals erupted

If this Washington Post report is accurate, Larry Schwartz took the “czar” part of his job title seriously. After several women accused Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment and misconduct, Schwartz started calling the county officials that worked with him on the COVID-19 pandemic to check their loyalty to the Love Gov. Now the state’s vaccine czar faces a pending ethics complaint, and New Yorkers have to wonder just how far Cuomo’s bullying goes:

New York’s “vaccine czar” — a longtime adviser to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo — phoned county officials in the past two weeks in attempts to gauge their loyalty to the embattled governor amid an ongoing sexual harassment investigation, according to multiple officials.

One Democratic county executive was so unsettled by the outreach from Larry Schwartz, head of the state’s vaccine rollout, that the executive on Friday filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the public integrity unit of the state Attorney General’s office, the official told The Post. The executive feared that the county’s vaccine supply could suffer if Schwartz was not pleased with the executive’s response to his questions about support of the governor.

“At best, it was inappropriate,” said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear that the Cuomo administration would retaliate against the county’s residents. “At worst, it was clearly over the ethical line.”

So how far did Schwartz go with his loyalty tests? For instance, did it go as far as determining which county got vaccines? Maybe not, but the calls may have raised that fear just by implication, one the county officials contacted by Schwartz suggested:

One official who received a call did not view it as an explicit threat and was not disturbed by it, but added, “Looking back on it, Larry probably wasn’t the best person to make a call like that.” A second official from a separate county said: “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.”

They described the outreach as politics as usual in the Cuomo administration, which has long earned a reputation for leaning on allies and threatening opponents.

“Long earned” that reputation, eh? Just how many of these news outlets managed to inform their readers and viewers of that “long earned” reputation when Cuomo was being hailed as the anti-Trump last year? While touring the nation promoting a book on leadership?

For his part, Schwartz insists he did nothing wrong. He doesn’t deny making the calls, but claims he remained “cordial, respectful, and friendly” while, er, using his position as vaccine czar to remind officials to “wait for the findings” of the AG before offering any public comment on Cuomo’s scandals. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what Schwartz meant, cordially delivered or not. Nice county ya got there … shame if anything happened to its vaccines.

As with much of what Cuomo has done in attempting to put out this fire, Schwartz’ extracurricular polling will likely backfire. New York legislators were already inclined to impeach Cuomo, and this latest attempt at political intimidation might push them even farther toward removal — especially since this is starting to have the same whiff of cover-up as Cuomo’s other, more deadly scandal in the nursing home deaths. Andrew McCarthy gives us a pre-Schwartz lay of the land today:

This is a problem for Cuomo: 41 Republicans are already on record supporting an impeachment resolution, and upwards of 40 Assembly Democrats appear to support Cuomo’s impeachment. The latter number is likely to increase as well-known national Democrats call for Cuomo to resign, including several of New York’s own who jumped on the bandwagon late last week: Senators Chuck Schumer (the majority leader) and Kirsten Gillibrand (who worked for Cuomo at HUD in the Clinton years), and Representatives Jerry Nadler (House Judiciary Committee chairman) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (the young firebrand who is influential on the hard left in both Washington, D.C., and New York). So far, the Biden White House remains mostly mum, but the heat is on.

There are significant differences between federal and New York impeachment procedures after impeachment articles have been adopted. The most significant one: Were Cuomo to be impeached by the Assembly, he would be suspended from office until the trial’s conclusion. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, a moderate Democrat, would become the acting governor.

That might be enough to prompt a quick impeachment on its own. The sooner legislators can force Cuomo out of office even temporarily, the easier they can deal with both scandals. Hochul would likely require some Cuomo staffers to hold over, but she will have to remove those who have acted as Cuomo’s hatchet men, including Schwartz. Whether the state senate will have enough votes to permanently remove him is another question, but perhaps legislators won’t be in a rush to answer that question once Cuomo’s sidelined.