On Thursday, New York state Democratic lawmakers opened an impeachment inquiry into New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. On Friday morning, an ideologically diverse range of Democratic congressional representatives from New York said in statements that they believe Cuomo should resign. On Friday afternoon, Cuomo held a press conference to say that he is not resigning and that to do so would constitute “bowing to cancel culture.”
“Cancel culture,“ in the view of its critics, is a process in which mostly decent people are fired from their jobs or shamed into quitting because they have failed to meet impossibly high standards of progressive sensitivity. Is this what is happening to Andrew Cuomo? Let’s review.
Pressure against the governor has been building since New York Attorney General Letitia James released a full accounting of COVID-19-related nursing home deaths in the state in late January. James’ data indicated that the Cuomo administration had obscured more than 4,000 such deaths by counting them in a misleading way; state lawmakers who had been asking for the true count for months were not pleased, especially when the New York Times reported that the governor and his staffers were given the more complete data last summer only to remove it from a public report. (The presumption is that the information was suppressed because it would have reflected poorly on Cuomo’s early-2020 decision to have some COVID-positive patients discharged back to nursing homes.)
In the wake of James’ release, a New York assemblyman who criticized the administration over the issue said that he’d received a retaliatory phone call from Cuomo in which the governor vowed to destroy his career. Since then, a number of other people who’ve worked with Cuomo have come forward to say that they too were threatened—either by Cuomo or one of his top aides—with having their careers destroyed for raising run-of-the-mill objections to his ideas. On Friday, New York magazine published a text conversation in which Cuomo’s current secretary responded to a state senator who’d called his COVID rhetoric “misleading” by telling her that she was a “terrible person” and “revisionist liar” who had a “big mouth” and was “full of shit” (the shit part was mentioned twice). Others have said they were conditioned to lie or hide information from the public while working for Cuomo, that he and his top aides made clear that they cared more about holding PR events and issuing inflated claims about progress than about the actual details of governing, and that shouting obscenities at subordinates in front of their peers was the most standard administration “management” technique. (Like, everyone says this.)
Six women, moreover, have made allegations of sexual misconduct against the governor. The first, a former adviser named Lindsey Boylan, alleges he asked her to play strip poker, told colleagues she looked like the more attractive version of a former girlfriend of his, and kissed her on the lips without warning. Another aide alleged that he brought her into his office for a one-on-one conversation about her dating history, his loneliness, and whether she would sleep with an older man. A woman who met him at a wedding—and had photos of the interaction—said he grabbed her by the face and made a comment about kissing her after she moved his hand off her back. A former staffer who spoke to New York said he belittled her appearance if she had gotten dressed in a hurry; two told the magazine they believe he hired junior employees by offering jobs to women he met in the course of his work whom he considered attractive. The Albany Times Union reported that a staffer who’d been sent to Cuomo’s residence to help him with a computer problem has told her bosses that he groped her by reaching under her dress.
Is it cancel culture to suggest that this is all a problem? On the one hand, people do want Cuomo to lose his job; on the other hand, this is less a matter of anyone’s self-expression being suppressed, or of behavior that was once widely considered acceptable being punished retroactively, than of dozens of people suddenly feeling free to say things they really ought to have been able to say several election cycles ago.