A married woman living in upstate New York accused New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday of forcibly kissing her cheeks in an "overtly sexual" nature while touring flood damage in her neighborhood outside Rochester in May 2017.
Sherry Vill, a married mother of three, held a press conference alongside her attorney Gloria Allred claiming the governor assaulted her when he "forcibly" kissed both of her cheeks after entering her home. During the address, Allred presented a number of photographs from the May 28, 2017, encounter she says proves Cuomo touched Vill in an inappropriate manner.
Vill, who did not call for the governor's resignation, read a statement detailing what she says happened on the day.
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In her recounting of the day's events, Vill says her family was asked to show their home to the governor and his staff while they toured local flood damage. When she met the governor inside her home, Vill says he forcibly kissed her on each cheek and said "you are beautiful." He then inspected the damage with his staff, took Vill’s hand and kissed her cheek again outside her home.
"He then approached me, took my hand and said, ‘Is there anything else you want?'" said Vill, who said she didn’t know how to respond. "While still holding one of my hands, he forcibly grabbed my face with his other big hand and kissed my cheek.
“The way he looked at me and his body language made me very uncomfortable,” she said. “I felt he was acting in a highly flirtatious and inappropriate manner, especially in front of my family and neighbors.”
"I felt embarrassed and weird," Vill said Monday. She said the experience left her feeling "manhandled" by the governor. "He said that's what Italians do, kiss both cheeks. I am Italian and in my family, family members kiss, strangers do not kiss, especially upon meeting someone for the first time."
An attorney for Cuomo, Rita Glavin, responded to Vill's claims 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," Glavin said in a statement.
Following the encounter at her home in Greece, New York, Vill says staffers for the governor reached out to her days later asking her, not her husband or other members of her family, to attend an event in town. Allred also presented a signed photograph and letter from the governor that was allegedly sent in the following days as well. Vill did not respond to the request or speak to the governor again, Allred said.
"I know the difference between an innocent gesture and an uncomfortable one ... his actions were overtly sexual, inappropriate and highly disrespectful," Vill said.
Glavin said it's common practice for the governor's office to "contact constituents after events and invite them to a future event on a related topic."
Vill plans to speak with Attorney General Tish James and participate in the ongoing investigation into the governor's alleged actions. There are no current plans to speak with anyone running the state assembly's impeachment probe, Allred said.
Allred says neither her nor Vill have spoken to the governor or his office about Vill's claim, and said Tuesday that her client will meet with investigators from the state attorney general's office on Monday next week.
Vill joins at least half a dozen other women who have accused the three-term governor of sexual misconduct, both physical and verbal. The accusations range in severity and have been made by former and current staffers, as well as a former journalist who worked in Albany and a woman who attended a wedding of a Cuomo ally.
The governor has previously issued an apology for any behavior interpreted as "unwanted flirtation," but vehemently denies touching anyone inappropriately.
Many Democrats who have called for his resignation said the governor, who’s touted New York’s sweeping 2019 sexual harassment law that mandated anti-harassment training for employees, has acknowledged behavior that he should know constitutes sexual harassment.
New York’s definition of sexual harassment hinges on whether the behavior is of a sexual nature and someone feels uncomfortable or humiliated — not whether the alleged perpetrator intended to do so. Allred said all New Yorkers should be treated with dignity and respect even if they’re the governor’s employees.
The independent lawyers selected by the state attorney general have already begun their investigation – which requires a public report upon completion – speaking with at least three of the women who have come forward with allegations against the governor.
Accusations of sexual misconduct against the governor have been made weekly since former staffer and current Manhattan borough president candidate Lindsey Boylan published accusations in mid-February. Less than two weeks ago, the second current staffer under the governor and first to go on the record shared her experience with Cuomo.