JCOPE looking into Cuomo aide's calls
Chris Bragg is reporting for the Times Union the state's ethics oversight agency is looking into a series of phone calls made by a former aide to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. The calls drew criticism from some county executives who felt the calls improperly mixed politics with vaccine distribution efforts. An investigator from the Joint Commission on Public Ethics has been reaching out to Democratic county executives to set up fact-finding interviews concerning their interactions with Larry Schwartz, one of Cuomo's most trusted advisers. He served as the state vaccine czar during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. The recently initiated JCOPE investigation is notable because the ethics oversight agency has been criticized for being influenced by the Cuomo administration. Bragg reports that It is unlikely JCOPE staff would have started the investigation without notifying the panel’s commissioners, including the six members appointed by Cuomo. In March, the Washington Post reported that Schwartz called county government officials to measure their loyalty to Cuomo. One Democratic county executive was so unsettled by the outreach that the person filed notice of an impending ethics complaint with the state attorney general's office. He feared a county's vaccine supply would suffer if Schwartz felt the executive was not supportive of Cuomo. Westchester County Executive George Latimer was one of the Democratic county executives contacted by JCOPE about a fact-finding interview. He said he found nothing inappropriate about the interaction. “People in politics call other people in politics all the time,” Latimer said. “I felt no kind of pressure from him, at all.” It is unclear whether JCOPE is investigating other Cuomo-related matters, including the governor’s use of staff to help produce his book, “American Crisis.” Read the full story in the Times Union.