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Cuomo loses another key aide as vaccine czar resigns

Larry Schwartz, one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s most trusted advisers, unexpectedly resigned his role as New York State’s immunization czar, about five months after being recruited by the governor to lead the deployment of vaccines in the state.

His resignation was submitted on Wednesday, just as the state legislature reinstated the state’s provisions in the Civil Servants Act that would have affected Mr. Schwartz had he remained in office.

Mr. Schwartz, who assumed the role of unpaid volunteer, could have been treated as a public servant following legislative changes, which would have required him to file financial disclosure forms and be subject to a two-year lobbying ban after his service. to the state, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Mr Cuomo had waived those requirements early in the pandemic in order to attract more potential volunteers to help higher levels of government.

Mr Schwartz, who was Mr Cuomo’s main assistant from 2011 to 2015 and is now the chief strategy officer at OTG, an airport concession company, has decided to step down to avoid the two-year lobbying ban, people said. OTG operates at airports operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose executive director is appointed by Mr. Cuomo.

“At Governor Cuomo’s request, I returned to public service over a year ago as a volunteer to help in the battle against Covid,” Mr. Schwartz said in a statement, adding that: “In as a lifelong resident, I am proud to help my fellow New Yorkers.

Mr Schwartz has said he intends to step down from his role in mid-May, once a significant portion of the population has been vaccinated, but changes made by the Legislature have accelerated his decision .

Mr Schwartz’s exit follows other high-profile departures as Mr Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, faces calls for his resignation and a series of inquiries into charges of sexual harassment and its management of retirement homes during the pandemic.

Mr Schwartz had recently come under scrutiny in mid-March following phone conversations he had with at least two county leaders, in which he discussed vaccines and also assessed their support for Mr. Cuomo, leading to accusations of impropriety.

Mr Schwartz stressed that he has never mixed the state’s vaccine response with political considerations, noting that vaccines are awarded on a formula basis.

Despite this, an investigation overseen by state attorney general Letitia James examined Mr. Schwartz’s phone calls with county officials. The attorney general’s team has already issued subpoenas to at least one county leader asking for information about Mr. Schwartz’s actions.

Mr Cuomo initially recruited Mr Schwartz, along with other former aides, in March 2020 at the height of the pandemic to help the state cope with hospital capacity and the shortage of personal protective equipment.

“I called Larry and asked him to come back and help me,” Mr. Cuomo wrote in his pandemic memoir. “I hated doing it because I knew that if I asked he couldn’t say no; he was such a good friend.

Mr Schwartz, who lived for a time with Mr Cuomo in the Executive Mansion, also helped set up the state’s contact tracing efforts before the governor asked him again in December to coordinate the distribution of vaccines throughout the state.

Richard Azzopardi, senior advisor to Mr Cuomo, said Mr Schwartz had worked 16 hours a day and was instrumental in the state’s response to the pandemic, saying: “We are extremely grateful for his dedication and its service to New Yorkers during their greatest time of need. “

Nearly two months after slashing Mr. Cuomo’s emergency powers, the Democratic-controlled Legislature on Wednesday suspended a number of Mr. Cuomo’s pandemic guidelines, including a rule that required New Yorkers to order food with their alcohol orders in bars and restaurants.

The change that affected Mr Schwartz – informally discussed as the ‘Larry Schwartz rule’ among lawmakers – was to ensure that ‘people who volunteer to perform important government duties’ are treated as public servants. and comply with government rules on disclosure and transparency. , according to a statement from Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the leader of the Democratic majority in the state Senate.

Mr Schwartz already files financial disclosure forms as a member of the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, one of the people said, but he was concerned that being subject to a two-man lobbying ban. years could hamper his work for OTG.

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