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New York Health Dept. employee mocks Steve McLaughlin’s cancer diagnosis

ALBANY — A state Department of Health employee mocked Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLaughlin on Twitter in response to news that the politician was being treated for prostate cancer — then doubled down by seeming to laugh off criticism of her remarks.

McLaughlin, 59, a Republican former assemblyman first elected to the county post in 2017, announced his diagnosis Wednesday morning. 

“Couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” the woman tweeted, punctuating it with an upside-down-smiley-face emoji, in response to a tweet from McLaughlin’s office sharing the news.

When another user responded that she was appalled at the woman’s remark, the Twitter user responded that she believes McLaughlin, who had been critical of aspects of the state and federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, had cost people their lives by downplaying the virus. 

“Nah, I’m good,” she wrote. “The devil will get him.”

Joseph Ahearn, a local defense attorney and former Rensselaer County prosecutor, noted in a response that the woman appeared to work at the state University at Albany, based on a previous tweet on her thread that also provided her name. (The Times Union is not identifying her.) He questioned whether the college would “condone this awful hate speech by their staff.”

“Political differences are valid, gloating over a serious medical diagnosis is clearly not,” Ahearn wrote. At a minimum, he said, the woman owed McLaughlin an apology.

 “Considering I don’t work there, good luck!,” she responded. “Find something better to do with your time.”

A no doubt relieved UAlbany spokesman said the woman was not currently employed by the university.

But it turned out the woman’s actual current employer was an entity even less likely to be cheered by a staff member poking fun at a cancer diagnosis: the state health department.

A spokesman for the agency said it does not comment on personnel matters.

“The New York State Department of Health wishes County Executive Steve McLaughlin a speedy recovery,” he said.

Some but not all of the woman’s posts had been pulled by Friday morning. Screen shots of the tweets continued to circulate on the social media site.

“We made the announcement about Steve’s diagnosis to encourage everyone to get checked out by their doctor to ensure early detection for a variety of health issues,” said McLaughlin’s spokesman Rich Crist. “We would certainly hope everyone focuses their energies in that direction to help get that message out. We hope the focus is on prevention, not politics.”

The Twitter user did not immediately respond to the Times Union’s request for comment.

The county executive, who was charged a year ago with stealing from his campaign and faces trial in a few weeks, said he plans to remain on the job as he receives treatment.

McLaughlin has himself been an often sharp-elbowed presence on Twitter, using his personal account to lambaste political opponents and the media (including, on occasion, the Times Union). In September 2021, his account was briefly suspended after he called CNN’s Brian Stelter “vapid and stupid,” a “babbling idiot” and an “insipid, wet-lipped moron.”

When his account was switched back on, McLaughlin was less than apologetic.

“Back after my 1st suspension from the censoring fascists at @Twitter,” he wrote. “Apparently they monitor liberal loser journalists like @brianstelter. If you criticize that babbling idiot you get suspended. Oops. I guess I did it again. … I’ve said way worse about Cuomo.”


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