Out and about with Jim McGreevey

By Tim Grieve
Published August 13, 2004 7:20AM (EDT)

On the first morning of Jim McGreevey's life outside the closet, here's what we know -- and what we don't know -- about the journey that led the New Jersey governor to announce his resignation Thursday and the political ramifications that will flow from it.

If a slew of reports based on unnamed sources counts as proof, it's now clear that the fear of a lawsuit from a man named Golan Cipel drove McGreevey to make his move. Although McGreevey didn't mention Cipel's name or the possibility of a lawsuit during his six-minute resignation speech Thursday, the governor's aides told the New York Times that Cipel was the man with whom McGreevey had an affair.

In a profile that seems to have been written with the made-for-TV-movie rights in mind, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Cipel and McGreevey met in Israel in 2000. "Cipel was a dark-haired, 31-year-old poet, a press aide for a midsize Israeli city, Rishon Le Zion. McGreevey, 43, was the boyish mayor of New Jersey's sixth-largest city, Woodbridge, and the likely Democratic gubernatorial nominee in the next election.

"The two men became quick friends."

Cipel moved to New Jersey and worked on McGreevey's gubernatorial campaign. After McGreevey was elected, he picked Cipel to serve as New Jersey's homeland security director. Cipel had no apparent qualifications for the job, and, because he wasn't a U.S. citizen, he couldn't get the security clearances necessary to participate in high-level security meetings. Even McGreevey's friends were taken aback by the appointment. "A lot of us raised our eyebrows at the time," George Zoffinger, chairman of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, told CNN's Paula Zahn Thursday night.

The questions about Cipel's qualifications didn't go away. He quit the homeland security job in March 2002 but stayed on as a $110,000-a-year adviser to McGreevey. He quit that job in August 2002 and went to work at a New York public relations firm.

Rumors about McGreevey's sexuality -- and even about a relationship with Cipel -- have circulated through New Jersey for years. According to the Times, a reporter actually asked McGreevey in early 2002 if he was involved in a sexual relationship with Cipel. His response: "Don't be ridiculous."

Sources told the Inquirer that McGreevey's relationship with Cipel "soured" shortly after Cipel left his state job. The paper said that Cipel's lawyer approached McGreevey in late July of this year, just before the governor left Trenton for the Democratic National Convention. Newsday reports that Cipel's lawyer demanded "millions of dollars under threat of a lawsuit that would charge the governor with sexual harassment." An unidentified source 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 Inquirer said that McGreevey spent the next three weeks "discussing the problem with an extremely tight-knit group of advisers." According to the Times, McGreevey's office contacted the FBI on Thursday, alleging that Cipel had demanded $5 million from the governor and committed extortion in the process. Within hours, McGreevey was before the cameras, announcing his resignation.

That's what we know. Here's what we don't know.

What's Cipel's story? McGreevey did a masterful job of playing the victim Thursday, and his aides have painted Cipel -- who lives in Manhattan but is said to be "lying low in Jersey" -- as a gold-digging extortionist. What's the other side of the story? Will Cipel file a lawsuit? If he does, will his charges cast McGreevey in a less sympathetic light?

Will McGreevey be able to hold on to the governor's office long enough to avoid a special election? Republicans in New Jersey are beginning to call for McGreevey to step down right away. If McGreevey can hold on until Sept. 13, Democratic state Senate President Richard Codey will replace him -- New Jersey doesn't have a lieutenant governor -- and serve out the last year of his term. At that point, New Jersey Senator Jon Corzine would likely run to replace Codey, unless John Kerry wins in November and appoints Corzine to a position in his cabinet.

Will McGreevey's resignation make a difference in the presidential race? The answer to this one is probably no. A poll released over the weekend has Kerry up by 20 points in New Jersey. And while a few local Republicans sought to make hay out of McGreevey's resignation Thursday, the national Republicans kept their distance. The GOP would probably be happy to strike a deal with the Democrats: We won't make much of McGreevey if you won't mention John Rowland, the Republican governor of Connecticut who resigned in June in the face of a growing ethics scandal, or Jack Ryan, the Republican who quit the Illinois Senate race in June amid allegations that he pressured his ex-wife to visit bondage clubs and have sex with him in front of strangers.

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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