In May of 2017, flooding from Lake Ontario damaged Sherry Vill’s family home in Greece, New York, which led to a visit from Governor Andrew Cuomo, who came to tour the area and assess the damage.
During that brief encounter, the 55-year-old said, Cuomo kissed her multiple times on her cheeks in front of her husband and children, called her “beautiful,” and later had a staffer reach out to invite her to an event Cuomo was attending, without extending the invite to the rest of the family. She’s now the 10th woman to allege inappropriate sexual conduct by the governor.
“I felt as if he was coming on to me inside my own home,” Vill said on Monday during a press conference alongside her attorney Gloria Allred, the famed women’s rights lawyer who’s represented women who were assaulted and harassed by high-profile men including Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby,Roman Polanski, and R. Kelly.
“I felt like I was being manhandled,” Vill—a mother of three, who owns a gas station and convenience store with her husband — said during the press conference, which was held on Zoom (and has been posted on YouTube).
The allegation comes after several women who met Cuomo in passing have recently recalled being in similar situations, saying the governor pinned them in uncomfortable embraces for photo ops, and grabbed and kissed their cheeks and foreheads against their will. This includes Anna Ruch, who met Cuomo at a wedding, and reporter Jessica Bakemen, who had an uncomfortable encounter with him at a social event.
Cuomo has repeatedly denied ever touching anyone inappropriately, and often cites his Italian heritage as a reason why he kisses and hugs women regularly. His office didn’t return a request for comment on Vill’s allegation right away.
Vill said Cuomo brought up his heritage during their 2017 meeting—“He said, that’s what Italians do. Kiss both cheeks,’” she recalled, saying she felt uncomfortable.
“I am Italian and in my family, family members kiss. Strangers do not kiss especially upon meeting someone for the first time,” she said, adding, “I know the difference between an innocent gesture and a sexual one.”
After Cuomo had kissed her on both cheeks, Cuomo moved to exit her house, turning around to tell her, “You are beautiful,” before he walked out the door. “That made me feel even more uncomfortable,” Vill said.
She lingered back while Cuomo surveyed the damage of her home from outdoors, but when he returned and found Vill again, he tugged on her hand to draw her close and grabbed her cheek with his other hand.
“He towered over me. There was nothing I could do,” Vill said. Later friends and neighbors kept joking with her saying she was “the governor’s new girlfriend.”
A few days after the visit Vill said one of Cuomo’ staffers called to invite her to an event Cuomo was hosting in town, but didn’t extend the invite to the rest of the family. Cuomo’s office later sent a letter thanking her for her hospitality, also not mentioning the rest of the family.
Allred provided several images of the encounter; one taken by Cuomo’s staff, which showed him touching Vill’s hand, and a still image from a video her son took that showed Cuomo grabbing Vill’s face and drawing her in for a kiss.
Allred said she and Vill would contact Attorney General Tish James’ office Monday to participate in their probe of sexual harassment allegations, and although Allred said what happened to Vill could be considered an “assault,” they didn’t intend to file criminal charges.
“[Sherry] has decided to break her silence and overcome her fear,” Allred said, adding they weren’t calling for Cuomo’s resignation immediately. “We look forward to due process not only for the governor but also those who allege they have been victimized by him.”
In a statement issued on Monday afternoon, the governor’s lawyer Rita Glavin emphasized that Cuomo has consistently hugged and kissed “men and women” for decades. She also shared the governor’s publicly available Flickr photo album of him visiting Vill and other flooding victims at the time, which also includes pictures of him grabbing the face and kissing another woman.
In addition to kissing and hugging women he’d just met, Cuomo faces sexual harassment allegations from at least five current and former staffers. Those women have described a hostile and toxic work environment where Cuomo expected women to look a certain way, gave them pet names, and commented on their appearances regularly. Two of those women allege forcible sexual contact, aggressive groping and forced kisses, while a third described explicit sexual propositioning.
James’ probe into that conduct is well underway. Investigators had issued subpoenas to dozens of top Cuomo’s staffers for documents, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
Allred said they were not, at this point, considering participating with the state Assembly’s impeachment probe, which is also investigating sexual harassment, among other subjects. Several other women have expressed similar hesitance to speak with investigators hired by the state assembly. Cuomo is facing a separate third investigation, conducted by the federal government is probing his handling of nursing homes and is looking at whether his administration falsified data related to nursing home deaths.
In the month since the first former staffer, Lindsey Boylan, came forward with allegations of sexual harassment, Cuomo has limited his media exposure, excluding reporters from multiple crowded press conferences announcing new vaccine pop up locations, while surrounding himself with political allies.
Cuomo’s approval rating had taken a hit following an avalanche of top Democrats calling for his resignation, including Senators Chuck Schumer, and Kirsten Gillbrand. But in recent days, his approval rating stabilized, with about 53 percent of New Yorkers backing the embattled governor according to recent polling.
Additional reporting by Brigid Bergin
Allegations of Andrew Cuomo’s Inappropriate Behavior Towards Women
2000: When Cuomo oversaw the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Karen Hinton, who also subsequently worked for Mayor Bill de Blasio, was summoned to a dimly lit hotel room after a work function. Hinton says Cuomo drew her in for a long, uncomfortable embrace, but then she backed away.
2012-2014: Reporter Jessica Bakeman described numerous incidents where Cuomo acted questionably, including the governor grabbing her and holding her by his side for several minutes while talking to other reporters, joking about them “going steady” and about making her uncomfortable.
2013-2015: Ana Liss was a fellow in Cuomo’s office who says Cuomo regularly kissed her on the cheek and hand, commented on her appearance, touched her on the small of her back at social functions, while other staffers in the office told her Cuomo liked blondes and told her to wear heels when he was in Albany.
2015-2018: Lindsey Boylan, who worked for Cuomo as a deputy secretary for economic development and a special advisor to Cuomo, says he suggested they play “strip poker,” went out of his way to touch parts of her body, and kissed her after a private meeting in his offices.
2016: A former staffer named Kaitlin said that she was hired to work in the governor’s office after he saw her at an event, and said that other attractive female staffers were hired in a similar fashion. “We all knew that this was only because of what I looked like,” she said.
2018: State Senator Alessandra Biaggi left her job in the governor’s office to launch her campaign when, a few months before the election, she saw the governor at a wedding. She said Cuomo kissed her head twice and then her eye before asking her fiancé if he was jealous.
2019: Anna Ruch met Cuomo in passing at a wedding in September. She says Cuomo slipped his hand down her back, grabbed her face with both hands and kissed her on the cheek against her will.
2020: Charlotte Bennett, an aide to Cuomo at the time, described several encounters where Cuomo asked her if she was comfortable dating older men, suggested she get a tattoo on her butt, and wondered if she was sensitive to intimacy because of a previous sexual assault.
Late 2020: Another aide, who hasn’t gone public with the allegations, told her supervisors in the governor’s office that she was summoned to his mansion to work, where Cuomo groped her under her blouse, according to a report from the Times Union. The matter has been referred to the Albany police.
2020-present: Current aide Alyssa McGrath described Cuomo ogling her breasts, kissing her forehead and nicknamed her and a colleague “Mingle Mamas” in a report from the New York Times.