McGreevey returns, with new life, old story in tell-all memoir

Ex-governor wrote book on gay affair

September 17, 2006|By McClatchy-Tribune

PHILADELPHIA -- When news broke this month that the federal government was investigating a lease deal involving U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, the New Jersey political world was instantly abuzz.

But the buzz took a while to reach former Gov. James E. McGreevey, who was filled in by friend Joe Orlando later that day.

"He said: `Really? Wow,'" recalled Orlando, a spokesman for the New Jersey Turnpike Authority. "I said, `You've got to be kidding me. Every other human being in the state knows about it. What have you been doing all day?'

"He blatantly had no idea."

Life couldn't be any more different for a man once consumed by politics.

It has been two years since McGreevey, under threat of being exposed by a former aide, said that he had had an adulterous affair with a man and announced that he would quit his job.

Since his stunning admission on national television that he was "a gay American," friends say, McGreevey's life has veered in a new direction.

Once conflicted about his sexuality and guarded about his private life, they say, McGreevey, 49, is finally at ease with himself.

Those close to him say he has channeled the drive that helped him win one of the nation's most powerful governorships into educational and antipoverty advocacy work.

The twice-married father of two girls has embraced the gay community and has moved into a new house with a new man.

And now he has a fresh shot at celebrity.

There is talk that he will be featured on a show, hosted by Joan Rivers. And on Tuesday, he will appear on The Oprah Winfrey Show to launch a monthlong publicity tour for his coming-out memoir, The Confession, which will hit stores the same day.

It describes in intimate and sometimes steamy detail McGreevey's struggle with homosexuality as he rose through the political ranks, and his account of the affair that led to his world's crashing down around him.

The book has been billed as a tale of struggle and redemption, but its author has had trouble drumming up sympathy. As excerpts leaked out in the past week, describing "boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine" trysting while his wife recovered from childbirth, politicians and taxpayers denounced McGreevey, using words such as "pathetic and "disgraceful.

That McGreevey stands to profit from his book is especially irksome to some, who say his tale of transformation threatens to eclipse the more important story of a bad politician who surrounded himself with bad people.

McGreevey's old mentor, former state Senate President John A. Lynch, pleaded guilty Friday to corruption and faces jail. Other McGreevey figures are serving time.

In the end, McGreevey has said, it was a blackmail threat by Golan Cipel, whom he has called his then-lover and whom he rewarded with a state job, that ended his career.

State GOP chairman Tom Wilson said McGreevey was "a disgrace" as governor.

After leaving office in November 2004, friends said, McGreevey set out in new directions. That winter, he traveled to McDowell County, W.Va., to write a series of lengthy articles on poverty in Appalachia.

A lawyer by profession, he then joined the law firm of state Sen. Ray Lesniak, a close friend and political mentor but left after being criticized for working with the developers his administration had selected to build a $1.3 billion project in North Jersey.

Friends say he still has a passion for public service.

And with a drive like his, "you've got to believe that any cause he puts his mind to will certainly be served well," Orlando said.

Steven Goldstein, chair of the gay-rights group Garden State Equality, who was critical of McGreevey's record on gay rights when he was a closeted governor, said McGreevey had made "a 180 turn" since then.

Goldstein credits the change in large part to Mark O'Donnell, the 42-year-old Australian financial adviser McGreevey now considers his life partner.

Lesniak said McGreevey visited a few times a year with his older daughter, Morag, who lives with his first wife in British Columbia.

McGreevey also "treasures his time" with his 4-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, who lives nearby with her mother, Dina Matos McGreevey.

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