TRENTON, N.J. – New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey announced Thursday that he is gay, that he committed adultery with a man, and that he would resign.
The dramatic disclosures came after a former aide the governor had been vilified for hiring threatened a legal action that would spell out details of the relationship, sources close to McGreevey said.
“I am a gay American,” McGreevey said at the Statehouse, his wife of four years, Dina, and his parents, Jack and Veronica, standing with him.
“Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign,” he said in a sometimes-quavering voice before staff members and reporters packed into his outer office.
Threat of suit prompts decision
The Democratic governor’s decision came at a time when he was being tarnished by scandals surrounding investigations of former staffers and fund-raisers.
McGreevey, 47, said his resignation as the state’s 51st governor would be effective Nov. 15 “to facilitate a responsible transition.” He has been in office since Jan. 15, 2002, and he has more than a year left in his term.
Under the state Constitution, Senate President Richard J. Codey, a Democratic legislator for 30 years and owner of an insurance agency in West Orange, will become acting governor while continuing to serve in the Senate. The governor is the only state official elected statewide.
Politicians of all persuasions were floored by the announcement, which capped a day of rumors and high drama in the news.
While other prominent politicians have announced they are gay and others have disclosed adulterous relationships, none in memory have delivered such a staggering collection of revelations all at once.
Codey said: “My heart goes out to Jim McGreevey and his family during this difficult personal time. Jim McGreevey is a good person and a good friend, and today’s events sadden me.”
Sources close to the governor said McGreevey’s announcement was precipitated by the threat of a lawsuit by Golan Cipel, a former aide whose appointment led to unceasing criticism.
The sources said the governor was asked three weeks ago to pay “millions of dollars” to have Cipel shelve his allegations at least until after McGreevey ran for re-election next year. Neither Cipel nor an attorney who is said to represent him could be reached Thursday for comment.
For much of McGreevey’s public life as a mayor, legislator and governor, he has been dogged by rumors that he was gay, despite having been twice married and having two daughters.
On Thursday, he said that he had wrestled with his sexuality for years and that it had led him into an affair with a man he did not identify.
“Shamefully, I engaged in adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony,” McGreevey said. “It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable.
” … I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality if kept secret leaves me, and most importantly the governor’s office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure. So I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality.”
McGreevey met Cipel during a trip to Israel in 2000 and asked him to come back to the United States. Cipel served as a liaison to the state’s Jewish community during McGreevey’s 2001 gubernatorial bid.
Cipel unqualified for job
In January 2002, McGreevey gave Cipel the $110,000-a-year job of special counsel on homeland security – a position for which he did not appear to have any qualifications.
McGreevey drew fire when it was revealed that Cipel was not required to undergo a background check like other high-ranking administration officials. At the time, McGreevey’s spokesman said the governor did not believe Cipel should submit to a background check.
But the federal government refused to give Cipel a security clearance to review sensitive material because he was not an American citizen. Cipel resigned in March of that year, but McGreevey retained him at the same salary as a “policy counselor.” Administration officials never explained exactly what he did.
Cipel left the administration that summer and, with McGreevey’s help, took a job with a lobbying firm. He lost that job and a subsequent one in public relations.
As it turned out, the initial flap over Cipel would become one of a series of poor decisions that dogged McGreevey’s governorship.
Most recently, McGreevey’s standing has been adversely affected by investigations involving close associates. A former top aide, Gary Taffet, was charged with insider trading; his top fund-raiser, Charles Kushner, was charged with obstruction of justice in a sex plot; and another fund-raiser, David Damiano, was charged with extortion in an indictment in which the governor makes an appearance in secretly recorded conversations.
McGreevey has not been charged with any crime.
Last month, Commerce Commissioner William Watley, a member of McGreevey’s cabinet, resigned amid allegations he and a top aide were personally profiting from state business.
Earlier, McGreevey had the state Democratic Party repay the state for his personal use of the state helicopter and excesses and personal entertainment on a trip to Ireland.
‘A train wreck’
While the New Jersey capital braced for whatever revelations might emerge in the future, McGreevey’s announcement generated different reactions.
“In a sense, this administration was blighted from the very beginning,” said Ross K. Baker, a political science professor at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. “It’s really a train wreck.”
Baker said McGreevey had some major accomplishments, including preserving the Highlands and fixing the E-ZPass program, “but they were totally overshadowed by the sleazy acts.”
Baker dismissed suggestions that this may be remembered as a defining moment for gay politics in America.
“It’s a New Jersey story. It’s New Jersey corruption,” Baker said. “This ought to be a wake-up call for people in New Jersey.”
‘What a jerk’
Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and author of a book on governors, said McGreevey’s speech was the ultimate in political spin.
He called McGreevey a “brute” for having his wife at his side when he announced he had been living a life of lies.
“What a jerk,” he said. “This is a guy who is just totally, utterly political.”
He predicted McGreevey would go down in history as a poor governor.
The gay community, which stood with the governor earlier this year when he signed a domestic partnership law, applauded his coming out and expressed sympathy.
“We all know how difficult it is to come out as openly gay, whether to family or other loved ones,” said Steven Goldstein, chair of Garden State Equality. “No one could imagine what it’s like to come out to 300 million people – this is totally unprecedented.”