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Stec asks feds to take over vaccine program

Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, speaks on the Senate floor March 5 as senators debate a bill to reduce the emergency powers they granted Gov. Andrew Cuomo a year ago as the COVID-19 pandemic began (Screenshot)

State Sen. Dan Stec, R-Queensbury, has joined his Republican colleagues in asking the federal government to take over the vaccine distribution program in response to the allegations that a health aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo called county leaders to gauge their support for the embattled governor.

Stec signed onto a letter sent to U.S. Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., making the request. This comes after media reports that county executives have received calls from Larry Schwartz, an aide Cuomo appointed to run the vaccination distribution program. Schwartz was calling county officials to gauge local elected officials’ support of Cuomo, who is facing investigations into the underreporting of nursing home deaths and multiple allegations of sexual harassment from female aides.

Stec said the federal government needs to step in to run the vaccine program.

“A political enforcer with a reputation for bullying should have nothing to do with COVID vaccines,” Stec said in a news release. “The governor’s so-called ‘vaccine czar’ is a longtime loyalist. He’s not a governmental employee, yet the key person responsible for coordinating vaccine distribution with county government officials.”

“That he, or anyone else, would play politics with life-saving vaccines is outrageous,” Stec added. “Larry Schwartz and the Cuomo administration can’t be trusted not to play politics, which is why I and my colleagues want to see him removed and the federal government take over.”

The letter is signed by 18 Republican senators.

Warren County spokesman Don Lehman said Monday that county officials have spoken to Schwartz regularly about vaccine-related topics, including the creation of a new mass vaccination site, and he has been helpful.

“But no one here has reported receiving any calls related to any political topics or to discuss support of any state officials,” Lehman said in an email.

Beth Garvey, acting counsel to the governor, issued a statement on Monday that did not deny the conversations took place. However, she said Schwartz did not discuss vaccine distribution, which is based on objective criteria to make sure it matches eligible populations, ensure equity and the ability to rapidly administer shots.

“To be clear, Larry’s conversations did not bring up vaccine distribution — he would never link political support to public health decisions,” she said in the statement. “Distorting Larry’s role or intentions for headlines maligns a decades-long public servant who has done nothing but volunteer around the clock since March to help New York get through the COVID pandemic. Any suggestion that Larry 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.”

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