ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC/AP) — New York Republican Chairman Nick Langworthy was in Rochester Monday calling on Monroe County Executive Adam Bello to reveal if he received a call from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office questioning his loyalty. Bello has since called for Cuomo’s resignation.
A longtime adviser to Cuomo leading the state’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been calling county executives to gauge their loyalty to the Democratic governor amid a sexual harassment investigation, according to reports in The Washington Post and The New York Times.
One Democratic county executive, who was not named by the newspapers, was so disturbed by the call from vaccine “czar” Larry Schwartz that the executive filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the public integrity unit of the state attorney general’s office on Friday, the newspapers reported.
The unnamed executive feared the county’s vaccine supply could suffer if the executive did not indicate support for Cuomo, the Post reported.
Bello released a statement Monday morning, confirming a call took place, but added that vaccines weren’t mentioned, and then he called for the governor’s resignation:
“On Sunday March 7th, the day after I again publicly called for an investigation into the allegations against Governor Cuomo, I received a phone call from Larry Schwartz. During that call, Mr. Schwartz asked about my position, and I pointed him to my statement. That was the end of the conversation. At no time did I feel any pressure and the topic of vaccines never came up.
Over the past 12 months, I have been laser focused on our community’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure the health and safety of Monroe County residents. Unfortunately, the growing number of strong, credible women coming forward to detail troubling allegations of a toxic workplace and sexual harassment and abuse against Governor Cuomo has become a distraction from our important work. I believe the time has come for Governor Cuomo to resign. Doing so is the only way to put the people of New York first and allow our state to begin the challenging work of rebuilding the trust that has been lost in state government. While the path ahead is not easy, I have complete confidence that Lieutenant Governor Hochul has the integrity and skill necessary to lead us forward.”
“Andrew Cuomo has reached a new and despicable low, which his really saying something after all we’ve seen,” Langworthy said. “The takeaway from one unnamed county was that they were afraid that their vaccine supply from their county would suffer if they didn’t stand up and stand with Governor Cuomo, despite three large dark scandals that stand over his administration.”
The GOP Chairman called on officials to public with their accounts and stop the anonymous reporting of incidents.
“Our county executives are the frontlines of our emergency responses,” Langworthy said. “They have to work hand-in-hand with the New York state government and if you have an important statewide official that is threatening, even if its a veiled threat, that’s a very serious situation.”
Langworthy called on President Joe Biden to change the vaccine distribution system as a result of these calls.
“Today I’m calling on President Biden to distribute vaccines directly through county government,” Langworthy said. “Bypass Cuomo. He cannot be trusted if he is politicizing the vaccine process. These vaccines cannot be held hostage in Cuomo’s sick and desperate attempts to cling to power.”
Schwartz served as secretary to the governor from 2011 until 2015 and has advised Cuomo off and on since then. He returned last spring to assist the administration with the response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Schwartz, who is working in a volunteer capacity to run New York’s vaccine distribution, acknowledged making the calls to county executives, but told the Post he did not discuss vaccines in the conversations.
“I did nothing wrong,” Schwartz told the newspaper. “I have always conducted myself in a manner commensurate to a high ethical standard.”
But the phone calls could raise questions about an intermingling of politics with the state’s coronavirus response.
“People do not see calls coming from the governor’s mansion as somebody wearing one hat and then putting on another hat,” Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told the Post. “If you are in control of a vital supply of a lifesaving resource like vaccines, you are carrying an enormous amount of implicit clout when you ask for political allegiance.”
Cuomo is facing allegations that he sexually harassed or behaved inappropriately toward six women, including several former staffers. He has denied touching any women inappropriately.
“This is an illegal, corrupt, quid pro quo,” Langworthy said. “It’s downright disgusting that once again New Yorkers’ lives have been put at risk to protect this governor’s political power. We can’t be surprised though, this is the way Andrew Cuomo and his empire function.”
The three-term governor has rejected calls for his resignation from fellow Democrats, including New York’s two U.S. senators, Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, and has asked New Yorkers to await the results of an investigation headed by state Attorney General Letitia James.
Schwartz told the Post that the calls he made to assess political support for Cuomo were distinct from the role he plays in the vaccination effort.
“I did have conversations with a number of County Executives from across the State 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,” he wrote in an email.
Beth Garvey, acting counsel to the governor, said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press through a Cuomo spokesperson on Sunday that any assertion Schwartz “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.”
“Larry answered our call to volunteer in March and has since then worked night and day to help New York through this pandemic, first managing surge capacity, and procuring necessary supplies for the state, setting up the contact tracing efforts, and now assisting with vaccine distribution,” the statement said.
Check back with News 8 WROC as we update this developing story.