A former top aide to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo who reportedly called county executives around the state, inquiring about their “loyalty” to the embattled Democrat, has resigned, according to reports quoted by Fox News.
The departure of Larry Schwartz, a public transit board member who became known as Cuomo’s volunteer “vaccine czar” for overseeing the state’s COVID-19 testing and vaccine rollout, followed the state Legislature’s repeals this week of three Cuomo executive orders related to the pandemic, the Times Union of Albany reported.
It followed other recent departures from the Cuomo administration, including those of aides Max Orenstein, Laura Edidin, Jack Sterne, Christopher O’Brien, Caitlin Girouard, Eric Hammond, Will Burns, Kumiki Gibson and Gareth Rhodes, City & State NY reported.
One of the repealed executive orders had exempted high-level state government volunteers from having to comply with a two-year ban on lobbying work once they leave state government. The same order also exempted those volunteers from other ethics rules, including some transparency guidelines and rules on open meetings, public record keeping and financial disclosures, according to the report.
The repeal of the governor’s ethics exemption order was led by state Sen. John Liu, a Democrat from the Queens borough of New York City who has been an outspoken critic of the governor.
Liu’s action followed reports earlier this year that Schwartz had made inquiries about county leaders’ “loyalty” to Cuomo, the newspaper reported.
The governor has been embroiled in recent months in several scandals, including allegations of sexual misconduct from former aides and other women; accusations that his administration underreported coronavirus deaths in the state’s nursing homes; reports that he improperly had state employees work on the production of a book; and claims of a possible cover-up of structural problems with a bridge named for Cuomo’s late father.
The governor and his representatives have denied any wrongdoing in connection with the allegations, although the governor has expressed regret that some of his communications with women may have been misinterpreted.
On Thursday, Liu claimed that the ethics exemptions allowed through Cuomo’s now-repealed executive order made a mockery of the notion that high-level state volunteers were working in the public’s interest.
“What does political loyalty have to do with public need for vaccine doses?” Liu asked Thursday. “These so-called volunteers can say until they’re blue in the face, ‘Oh, I’m only doing this for the public interest,’ but without disclosing any other interests they have, it’s impossible for the public to agree with those contentions.”
“What’s really required is disclosure,” Liu added.
Rich Azzopardi, a Cuomo spokesman, accused the Times Union of promoting Liu’s criticisms without equally presenting arguments from the Cuomo administration. Azzopardi also told the Times Union that news reports about Schwartz’s alleged “loyalty” inquiries had misrepresented the conversations with the county executives.
Meanwhile, Schwartz said in a statement through Azzopardi that he had always intended to step down from his coronavirus-related duties “as we achieved certain milestones,” the paper reported.