NEW YORK — Another woman came forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday.
Sherry Vill, a married mother and grandmother, said the governor forcibly grabbed her by the face and kissed her on the cheek two separate times during the same visit while touring flood damage at her upstate New York home in May 2017.
Vill and her attorney, Gloria Allred, detailed the allegations during a news conference Monday. The 55-year-old businesswoman said Cuomo’s actions were unwelcome and made her uncomfortable and embarrassed.
After the first kiss inside her home, Vill said Cuomo lingered behind as the rest of the group went to tour damage outside and then told her she was beautiful.
“I felt as though he was coming onto me in my own home,” Vill said.
Shocked by what happened, Vill said she did not join the group for the rest of the damage tour and instead waited in the front yard of her home.
“After seeing the damages, the governor then circled to the front of the house where I was standing. He then approached me, he took my hand and said, ‘Is there anything else you want?’ I didn’t know how to respond,” she said. “He then leaned down on top of me, and while still holding one of my hands, he forcibly grabbed my face with his other big hand and kissed my cheek, again in a very aggressive manner. I felt like I was being manhandled.”
A photo of the governor kissing Vill in her front yard was also shared at the news conference along with a personal letter the governor wrote to her after the visit. Allred noted that while Cuomo had met other members of the family, the letter was only addressed to Vill.
Additionally, Vill said she received a missed call and voicemail from a member of Cuomo’s staff following his visit, inviting her to an event nearby. She said she did not return the call because of how uncomfortable the governor made her.
“The whole thing was so strange and inappropriate and still makes me nervous and afraid because of his power and position,” Vill said. “This had a long-term effect on me. My neighbors and customers kept saying I was the governor’s new girlfriend and other similar comments, which I did not like at all.”
Watch the news conference below
Allred said Vill wanted to report the incident after it happened but her family discouraged her from speaking out for fear of retaliation. She decided to come forward now after other women detailed similar behavior to what she experienced.
“The people of New York deserve to know the truth,” Allred said.
The governor has apologized, saying he never meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but refused to resign from office.
Monday, a spokesperson for the governor defended his actions as mere pleasantries.
“During times of crisis, the governor has frequently sought to comfort New Yorkers with hugs and kisses,” said Rita Galvin. “As I have said before, the governor has greeted both men and women with hugs, a kiss on the cheek, forehead or hand for the past forty years.”
Cuomo has previously likened his tendency to greet people with a kiss on both cheeks — a nod to his Italian roots — as a form of political glad-handing that he has since realized is no longer appropriate.
Galvin also said the letter sent to Vill was a form letter sent to more than 30 people the governor visited that day, and that accompanied photos and follow-up contact from staffers is standard operating procedure.
Vill alleged Cuomo had said to her at the time, “that’s what Italians do, kiss on both cheeks,” but she said it made her feel “embarrassed and weird.”
“I am Italian and in my family, family members kiss. Strangers do not kiss, especially upon meeting someone for the first time,” Vill said.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading an independent investigation into the harassment allegations.
Allred and Vill planned to speak with James’ office on Monday following their news conference. Allred said they intend to work with the attorney general’s office on their investigation, but do not plan to file a lawsuit or seek criminal charges against the governor.
A separate impeachment inquiry, led by the state Assembly Judiciary Committee, is also underway. However, the chair of the committee said last week that it could take months to determine whether Cuomo should be impeached.
“Reputation Doctor” Mike Paul gave the PIX11 Morning News insight into Cuomo’s possible crisis management plan on Tuesday morning: