Embattled state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker was blasted by Democratic lawmakers in a virtual meeting amid continuing controversy over the state’s nursing home death toll from COVID-19, The Post has learned.
Several members of the state Assembly called Zucker a “liar” during the video conference call — and he was even referred to as Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “puppet,” sources said Tuesday.
“A lot of members are up in arms about this whole nursing home thing,” said one lawmaker who took part in the Monday afternoon meeting.
“We’ve been asking for this information for months — 6, 7, 8 months … The attorney general drops a report and then four hours later you receive the information from the Health Department.”
The Assembly member added: “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure it out — they were lying — after the attorney general released their report.”
The outrage followed last week’s report in which state Attorney General Letitia James said the DOH dramatically downplayed the total number of nursing home deaths by withholding the number of residents who died in hospitals.
James’ revelation pushed Zucker to finally release figures showing that 12,743 residents had died in nursing homes and hospitals as of Jan. 19 — up from 8,711 in just nursing homes a day earlier.
Others who took part in Monday’s meeting said lawmakers were also upset that Zucker broke a pledge, made several weeks ago, to have prison inmates vaccinated against the coronavirus at the same time as correction officers.
“Zucker flat-out lied to us,” Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Queens) said.
“If Zucker can’t keep his promises and regain the public’s trust, then there’s no other way forward for him other than to step down.”
Last week, state Senate Majority Leader Rob Ortt (R-Lockport) publicly demanded that Zucker resign, saying, “How can he lead when we’ve got this report that shows he lied to the people of New York?”
Cuomo was also criticized during Monday’s meeting for appointing a former top aide, Larry Schwartz, to run the state’s COVID-19 vaccination program, an Assembly source said.
Schwartz, who now serves as Cuomo’s enforcer on the MTA board, took part in the meeting at which Zucker made the pledge regarding inmate vaccinations, the source said.
“Why is Larry Schwartz involved in all of this? Who is Larry Schwartz?,” the lawmaker asked.
A Health Department spokesman called the Democratic complaints about Zucker “peak pandemic hysteria.”
Spokesman Gary Holmes said Zucker “was very clear” that he was preparing to disclose the total number of nursing home deaths during sworn testimony at a joint session of the state Legislature on Feb. 25.
Holmes also said Zucker decided to release the information early “to correct inaccuracies in the AG report which was released publicly after we were given a one-hour notice.”