ALBANY – A Rochester-area woman claimed Monday that Gov. Andrew Cuomo was overly forward with her inside her own home, calling her beautiful and kissing her aggressively on the cheeks during a visit to tour flood damage along Lake Ontario in 2017.
Sherry Vill, 55, said Cuomo’s actions were jarring to her and her family, saying it had left her rattled and fearful to come forward. He kissed her once inside her home and then again outside as he was leaving.
“I know the difference between an innocent gesture and a sexual one,” Vill said in a Zoom press conference with Gloria Allred, the high-profile women’s rights attorney.
“I never felt as uncomfortable as I did the day Gov, Cuomo came to my house. His actions were very overly sexual, highly inappropriate and disrespectful to me and my family.”
Vill became the latest woman to detail alleged unwanted contact by the Democratic governor, who is being urged to resign by many state leaders for accusations from at least five current and former aides of sexual harassment.
Cuomo’s attorney, Rita Glavin, disputed Vill’s characterization, saying Cuomo has always tried to console people in times of need.
“During times of crisis, the governor has frequently sought to comfort New Yorkers with hugs and kisses,” Glavin said in a statement.
“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 40 years.”
She forwarded to reporters a link to photos from Cuomo’s office from that day in May 2017, where he was shown hugging and holding people, and in one instance, kissing another woman as he toured storm damage in Greece.
“Nothing described at today’s press conference was unique in that regard,” Glavin said.
The state Attorney General’s Office is investigating all the allegations against Cuomo, as is the Assembly Judiciary Committee in a bid to determine whether the complaints should lead to Cuomo’s impeachment in the chamber if he doesn’t resign.
Latest allegation against Cuomo
Allred said Vill planned to cooperate with Attorney General Letitia James’ probe.
Vill, a local business owner, said that after touring flooding damage in her neighborhood, Cuomo was given permission to come into their home and greeted her with a kiss on the cheek as she held her dog, which she felt was in a “highly sexual manner.”
Cuomo responded, she said, “That’s what Italians do, kiss both cheeks”.
“I felt shocked and didn’t understand what just happened, but I knew I felt embarrassed and weird about his kissing me,” Villl said in her statement to reporters.
“I am Italian, and in my family, family members kiss. Strangers do not kiss, especially upon meeting someone for the first time.”
Then as Cuomo was leaving her home, Vill said Cuomo said to her, “You are beautiful,” and then toured outside the house.
Soon after, Cuomo approached her again and asked if there’s “anything else you want,” leaned in, “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.”
Days later, she said Cuomo’s staff called her and asked if she would attend an event with the governor. Vill didn’t respond, then her family received a letter directed to her about the visit and photos of them together, including a signed one.
Glavin, Cuomo’s attorney, said the letter was dated two months later and similar to a form letter sent to more than 30 people that Cuomo visited along Lake Ontario.
She added it is practice for his office to send signed photos to people he meets with, and the photos are regularly signed with an autopen as well as it being “common for staffers to contact constituents after events and invite them to a future event on a related topic.”
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Cuomo has said he’s sorry if he offended anyone
Allred said the actions by Cuomo were more than a welcoming gesture and should be investigated along with the other incidents.
“Women like Sherry will no longer be silent,” Allred said.
Cuomo has apologized for any actions that may have offended anyone, saying repeatedly that he is playful with aides and often hugs and kisses people when he greets them.
“I fully support a woman’s right to come forward, and I think it should be encouraged in every way,” Cuomo said March 3.
“I now understand that I acted in a way that made people feel uncomfortable. It was unintentional, and I truly and deeply apologize for it.”
Cuomo has vowed he would not resign, saying he never touched anyone inappropriately and urging the public and politicians to wait until James’ investigation is finished before passing judgment.
Joseph Spector is the Government and Politics Editor for the USA TODAY Network’s Atlantic Group, overseeing coverage in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. He can be reached at [email protected] or followed on Twitter: @GannettAlbany