Cuomo Loses Another Key Aide as Vaccine Czar Steps Down

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Larry Schwartz, one of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s most trusted advisers, unexpectedly stepped down from his role as New York State’s vaccine czar, about five months after he was recruited by the governor to spearhead the state’s vaccine rollout.

His resignation was submitted on Wednesday, just as the State Legislature restored state provisions to the public officers law that would have affected Mr. Schwartz had he remained in the position.

Mr. Schwartz, who took on the role as an unpaid volunteer, could have been treated as a public officer following the 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 at the beginning of the pandemic so he could attract a broader pool of potential volunteers to assist at the highest levels of government.

Mr. Schwartz, who served as Mr. Cuomo’s top aide from 2011 to 2015 and is now the chief strategy officer at OTG, an airport concessions company, decided to step down to avoid the two-year lobbying ban, the people said. OTG operates in airports run by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, whose executive director is appointed by Mr. Cuomo.

“At the request of Governor Cuomo, 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, “As a lifelong resident, I take pride in helping my fellow New Yorkers.”

Mr. Schwartz said he had intended to abandon the role in mid-May, once a significant portion of the population was vaccinated, but the changes by the Legislature fast-tracked his decision.

Mr. Schwartz’s exit follows other top-level departures as Mr. Cuomo, a third-term Democrat, faces calls for his resignation and a series of investigations into sexual harassment accusations and his handling of nursing homes during the pandemic.

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

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

Even so, an investigation being overseen by the state attorney general, Letitia James, has been looking into Mr. Schwartz’s phone calls with county executives. The attorney general’s team has already issued subpoenas to at least one county executive asking for information about Mr. Schwartz’s actions.

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

“I called Larry and asked him to come back and help,” 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 that good a friend.”

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

Richard Azzopardi, a senior adviser to Mr. Cuomo, said Mr. Schwartz had worked 16-hour days and was instrumental in the state’s pandemic response, saying, “We are incredibly grateful for his dedication and service to New Yorkers in their greatest time of need.”

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

The change that affected Mr. Schwartz — informally discussed as the “Larry Schwartz Rule” among lawmakers — was intended to make sure that “individuals who volunteer to take on significant government work” are treated as public officers and comply with government disclosure and transparency rules, according to a release from Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic majority leader in the State Senate.

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

Jesse McKinley contributed reporting.

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