NEW YORK (WROC) — Another woman came forward with allegations of inappropriate behavior by Gov. Andrew Cuomo Monday, and she’s from the Rochester area.
High-profile women’s rights attorney Gloria Allred said the governor suddenly grabbed her client, 55-year-old Sherry Vill, by the face and kissed her in front of her home a few years ago.
Vill is married, a mother, and a resident of Greece, New York. The governor toured her home while he was in the area surveying some of the historic flood damage along Lake Ontario’s shoreline in 2017.
“She feared that if she made what happened to her public that the governor might use his power to retaliate against her and her family,” Allred said.
“I came home from work to see all the commotion goin on,” Vill said. “I was asked by staff if I would allow the governor to come into our home to view our damages and I agreed. Governor Cuomo went into my house with my husband’s son, along with his staff and some town officials. I came in shortly afterward.”
Vill says the governor kissed her on both of her cheeks during the encounter. She described the encounter as “sexualized.” She said it took place in front of her son, who took a video of the incident.
“I said to the governor, ‘do you think we have to live like this?'” Vill said. “That’s when the governor looked at me, approached me, took my hand and pulled me to him. He leaned over me and kissed my cheek. I was holding my small dog in my arms and thought he was going to pet my dog, but instead he wedged his face between the dog and mine and kissed me on the other cheek in what I felt was a highly sexual manner. I wasn’t expecting that at all.”
A photo of the governor kissing Vill was also shared at the press conference. It was a screen shot from the video her son was recording, along with other photos of the encounter. Governor Cuomo’s attorney sent a number of photos from that day in response, many showing the governor shaking hands and kissing faces.
Vill says the governor said he kissed both cheeks because “that’s what Italians do.”
“I felt shocked and didn’t understand what had just happened, but I knew I felt embarrassed and weird about him kissing me,” Vill said. “I am Italian and in my family, family members kiss. Strangers do not kiss, especially upon meeting someone for the first time.
“The governor’s staff started to walk out of the house and Gov. Cuomo lagged behind them,” Vill said. “He stopped and turned to me and said ‘you are beautiful,’ and that made me feel even more uncomfortable. I felt as though he was coming on to me in my own home.”
Vill said the governor and his staff then proceeded to view more damage outside of the house.
“After seeing the damages the governor then circled to the front of the house where I was standing,” Vill said “He then approached me and he took my hand and said ‘is there anything else you want?’ I didn’t know how to respond. He then leaned on top of me and while still holding one of my hands, he forcibly grabbed my face with his other hand and kissed my cheek in a very aggressive manner. I felt I was being manhandled, especially because he was holding my face and was kissing my cheek again. I could not use my other hand to stop him because he did it so quickly and I was holding my dog with my other hand.”
Vill said she felt uncomfortable with the way the governor looked at her, adding that his body language furthered her discomfort.
“I felt he was acting in a highly flirtatious manner, and inappropriate manner, especially in front of my family and neighbors,” Vill said. “He is almost 6 feet tall. I am approximately 5 feet tall. He towered over me, and there was nothing I could do.”
Vill said the governor later extended an invite to her to an event in the Rochester area, but the invite was not extended to Vill’s other family members.
“When the governor left, I thought the craziness was over,” Vill said. “However, to my surprise, within days I received a call on my voicemail from the governor’s staff. The woman on the other end said Gov. Cuomo was having an event in town, naming the place and time, and asked if I would like to attend. Notably, she didn’t say my husband and I, or my family and I, only me. I purposely did not respond to the invitation. I felt very uneasy about the call.”
Vill said that voicemail wasn’t the last correspondence from the governor and his staff.
“Then to top it off, the governor sent me a letter and pictures,” Vill said. “The pictures featured the governor and me, and the letter was addressed only to me. The whole thing was so strange and inappropriate and still makes me nervous because of his power and position. My neighbors and customers kept saying I was the governor’s new girlfriend and other similar comments, which I did not like at all.
“I have been in business for many years and routinely interact with male customers and vendors — I know the different between an innocent gesture and a sexual one,” Vill said. “I never felt as uncomfortable as I did the day that Gov. Cuomo came to my home. His actions were overly sexual, highly inappropriate, and disrespectful to me and my family.”
News 8 interviewed Vill after the lake shore flooding caused damage to her home and business in 2017.
“We had to move everything out of the home, we’ve moved all the furniture out,” Vill told News 8 in 2017. We’re just preparing for the worst right now.”
That year, the governor’s office had announced $10 million in funding earmarked for local municipalities following the floods.
Allred said they had not filed a lawsuit or complaint and don’t plan to do so. She said they only plan on contacting the New York State Attorney General’s Office, which is investigating the governor’s conduct, and will comply with that investigation. Allred said Vill would not comment on calls for the governor to resign, or call for him to resign at this time.
“Sherry feels that there should be a full and fair investigation of all of the allegations against the governor and then the report should be made public,” Allred said. “After the governor is afforded due process, and the report is published, then Sherry will make the decision as to what action she thinks should be taken against the governor.”
“Women like Sherry will no longer be silent,” Allred said. “They will refuse to be intimidated by powerful men.”
There has been no immediate comment from the Cuomo administration. Following previous allegations, the governor has maintained he never touched anyone inappropriately.
“In no way are we suggesting that the governor should be prosecuted for what he did to Sherry,” Allred said. “Technically, if a person touches another person, with the intent to touch that person, it’s battery; civil, potentially criminal, but we’re not focused on the criminal aspect at all today. We are focused on the investigation by the New York Attorney General’s office.”
The governor has previously apologized, saying he never meant to make anyone feel uncomfortable, but refused to resign from office. His attorney, Rita Glaven, sent this statement out Monday evening:
“During times of crisis, the Governor has frequently sought to comfort New Yorkers with hugs and kisses. 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. I encourage everyone to look at other photographs from his visit to Greece, NY that day.” (link provided)
“Nothing described at today’s press conference was unique in that regard. Three other related points concerning Gloria Alfred’s press conference: (1) the July 19, 2017 letter from the Governor that Ms. Allred displayed was a nearly identical follow-up form letter sent to more than 30 people that the Governor visited to support and assist following the Lake Ontario flooding, and those form letters were signed with an autopen; (2) it is a practice of the Governor’s office to send signed photos to people he meets with after events, and those photos are regularly signed with an autopen; (3) it is common for staffers to contact constituents after events and invite them to a future event on a related topic.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James is leading an independent investigation into the harassment allegations.
James’ office subpoenaed dozens of officials in Cuomo’s administration, including top aide Melissa DeRosa, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday citing sources familiar with the investigation.
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.
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