New Jersey governor quits, citing his adulterous affair with man

August 13, 2004|By Glenn Thrush and John Riley | Glenn Thrush and John Riley,NEWSDAY

In a political and personal news conference without precedent, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey announced yesterday that he was gay, had engaged in an adulterous affair with a man, and was resigning effective Nov. 15.

With his second wife, Dina, and his parents by his side, McGreevey, 47, said he was stepping down because the affair had left him "vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure" and compromised his "ability to govern."

"At a point in every person's life, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world, not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is," McGreevey, a Democrat, told a packed Trenton news conference. "And so my truth is that I am a gay American."

McGreevey did not name the man with whom he had the affair, but a source close to McGreevey said the person was Golan Cipel, a 33-year-old Israeli citizen who once served as McGreevey's homeland security aide.

Cipel's lawyer contacted McGreevey "several weeks ago with a demand for millions of dollars under threat of a lawsuit that would charge the governor with sexual harassment," said the source, who asked not to be identified.

The source also told Newsday that the "demand for the money was on the understanding Cipel would not be heard from until after the election in 2005."

The governor's lawyers contacted law enforcement officials and told them about the offer, according to the source.

Cipel could not be reached for comment. Messages left at his lawyer's office last night were not returned, and calls to the lawyer's home were not answered.

Under the New Jersey Constitution, McGreevey will be succeeded by state Senate President Richard J. Codey, a Union County Democrat. New Jersey's next gubernatorial election is next year.

By delaying his resignation until Nov. 15, McGreevey obviated the need for a special election. Political experts said that, with Sen. John Kerry holding a double-digit lead in the state, the resignation was unlikely to affect the presidential race.

Longtime New Jersey political observers said rumors about McGreevey's sexual orientation had been floating around for years among political insiders. His second marriage came just before he ran for governor, in October 2000, and many believed it was designed to quash the rumors, but they resurfaced when Cipel was hired.

"This is probably not so much of a shock to people on the inside," said Don Linky, a scholar at Rutgers University's Eagleton Institute for Politics. "You have to have some sympathy for a guy who has lived a life of lies in the public glare, but you also feel how can someone be so stupid as to take this risk in public life."

McGreevey, a former state legislator and mayor of suburban Woodbridge, has two daughters, one from each of his marriages. He burst unexpectedly onto the statewide scene in 1997 with a razor-thin loss to Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman.

He won an easy victory four years later against conservative Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler. In office, he cut property taxes, imposed a new tax on the wealthy and signed civil unions-type legislation without taking a stance on gay marriage, Linky said. But his administration - even before yesterday - has suffered from a stream of allegations of patronage and scandal.

This summer, top fund-raiser David Damiano was charged with extortion in a federal indictment that named McGreevey dozens of times, and the governor's top donor was also indicted on charges that he tried to use blackmail to prevent a relative from testifying before a grand jury. McGreevey's approval rating had dropped to 38 percent in a late July poll.

"It was a pretty troubled administration," Linky said.

From the opening words of his resignation speech yesterday, McGreevey painted a deeply emotional picture of a man who had come to a decision point after a life of struggling to balance a disquieting inner voice with a desire to live, and succeed, in a conventional way.

"Throughout my life, I have grappled with my own identity, who I am," he said. "As a young child, I often felt ambivalent about myself, in fact, confused. By virtue of my traditions and my community, I worked hard to ensure that I was accepted as part of the traditional family of America."

Throughout his life, he said, he had "forced what I thought was an acceptable reality onto myself, a reality which is layered and layered with all the, quote, good things, and all the, quote, right things of typical adolescent behavior."

He made no apologies for being gay or coming out of the closet, noting that it might have made him a more "forthright" governor, and didn't try to defend the affair. "It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable," McGreevey said.

While the full details behind the resignation were still unclear, a sampling of New Jersey commuters heading home last night indicated that few if any would hold McGreevey's sexual preference against him.

"His sexual orientation doesn't make any difference about what type of governor he makes," said Anne Wright, 47, of Jersey City. "It probably has more impact on his family life than anything else. I'm real surprised."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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