By Bob Roehr
TRENTON, N.J. – The Governor of New Jersey, James E. McGreevey, stepped before the cameras of the hastily called news conference on the afternoon of Aug. 12 to announce, “I am a gay American.”
He also acknowledged that he had an adulterous affair with another man; briefly alluded to “circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern” and said he would step down as Governor Ñ but not quite yet.
Further details likely will emerge over the coming weeks, but here is where things stand now.
As the state’s leading newspaper the Star-Ledger noted in an editorial on Aug. 13, McGreevey spoke “Not the truth, but ‘my truth,'” In doing so, “He was dishonest with himself and those closest to him. And he was dishonest with New Jersey.”
In retrospect, McGreevey, 47, showed all of the signs of the best little boy in the world, recognizing in his youth that he was gay but suppressing that for social and political reasons, and overcompensating in other areas of his life.
He was raised in a conservative middle class family, devoutly Catholic and an altar boy, and went on to three prestigious institutions, under grad at Columbia, a masters in education from Harvard, and a law degree from Georgetown.
He started as a state prosecutor in New Jersey, was elected to the state legislature, then mayor of Woodbridge. He lost his first bid for Governor in 1997 but came back to win the second time around in 2001.
McGreevey married in 1991 and had a daughter, but that ended four years later in divorce. He married again in 2000 on the eve of his successful campaign for governor and they have a young daughter.
The “other man,” who McGreevey did not identify in his public statements, is Golan Cipel. Members of the governor’s staff have since confirmed that fact. Rumors of the affair had circulated for years in New Jersey.
Mayor McGreevey met Cipel on a junket to Israel in 1999. The Los Angeles Times described Cipel at the time as “a slender, boyish man just over 30.”
Six months later, after McGreevey again visited Israel, the younger man moved to a New Jersey apartment just a block from the Mayor’s residence. McGreevey even visited the place before the lease was signed.
He also arranged a $10,000 job as outreach coordinator to the Jewish community for the Democratic State Committee and lined up a $30,000 a year marketing job with Charles Kushner, a top contributor to his campaigns. Kushner is under indictment for hiring a prostitute to try and blackmail a witness in a federal fraud investigation.
The plot thickened when McGreevey was sworn in as Governor in January 2002. He created a new position, that of homeland security adviser, and named Cipel to fill it. The salary was $80,000, increased six weeks later to $110,000, the fifth highest in the administration, even while the state was facing a budget crisis.
He claimed that Cipel’s service in the Israeli military, which is mandatory for all citizens, qualified him for the position. But the FBI and other agencies refused to share intelligence data with a foreign national who did not have a top security clearance.
Cipel kept the title only a few months when state legislators questioned his fitness and threatened to hold up confirmation of key appointees. He became a special advisor to the governor where his responsibilities were murky, but his salary remained the same. He went to the private sector in August 2002.
As the New York Times said in an Aug. 13 editorial, “If McGreevey put someone in that critical post because of a personal relationship, that would be an outrage, regardless of his sexual orientation.” It was perhaps the most damaging part of the scenario and one the McGreevey side tried to play down.
According to the New York Times, a phone call from Cipel’s lawyer on July 23 about a sexual harassment lawsuit set off a round of discussions that ended in McGreevey’s resignation 20 days later.
The staff weighed various options as they negotiated with the lawyer over a possible settlement, while McGreevey made sure to maintain a normal schedule. He even spoke to a gathering of gay and lesbian delegates to the Democratic National Convention in Boston without letting a hint of the bombshell slip out.
But the price of settling, some $5 million according to what staffers told the Times, proved to be too high. Cipel’s lawyer called that suggestion a smear campaign against his client, and that in fact McGreevey’s people “offered a sum of money to make my client go away.”
At first McGreevey thought he would simply announce that he was not going to run for reelection. But then he decided to make a clean break and resign. The one catch was that he would delay the resignation until Nov. 15 in order to forestall a special election and improve chances for the Democrats to retain control of the governor’s office. He called the news conference.
Cipel played the victim card in a statement read by his lawyer the next day. “While employed by one of the most powerful politicians in the country, New Jersey Governor McGreevey, I was the victim of a repeated sexual advances by him. Such conduct and McGreevey’s behavior caused me such emotional distress and turmoil.
“When I finally dared to reject Governor McGreevey’s advances, the retaliatory actions taken by him and members of his administration were nothing short of abuse and intimidation.” It had only taken him a couple of years to object to the alleged advances.
McGreevey maintains that the sexual activity was consensual. And while the twice and still married father of two now calls himself a homosexual, the never married Cipel told an Israeli reporter that he is heterosexual.
Cipel’s lawyer anticipates that a sexual harassment lawsuit will be filed shortly. New Jersey has a statute of limitations requiring that it be filed within two years of leaving that employment. The deadline for Cipel is Aug. 30.
“I think gayness is being used,” Alan Rosenthal told the Associated Press. He is a professor of political science at Rutgers University, the leading state school in New Jersey. “It’s not the root cause of his resignation. And it’s certainly not the root cause of McGreevey’s demise.” He laid the resignation to an accumulation of scandals and ineptitudes.
“The fact that he’s gay is the least of his problems,” gay writer Eric Marcus told the New York Times. “And I’m not quite sure where his coming out fits into all of this. I don’t think it reflects well on gay people.
“Here is a man who chose to hide who he was, came out under pressure because he had engaged in an adulterous affair, had given his romantic partner a government job. It’s not exactly a moment I think anybody who has been involved in the gay rights movement can take pride in.”