2005Breaking News Reporting

McGreevey quits, admits gay affair

Governor plans to leave office Nov. 15
Ex-aide expected to sue, claiming sexual harassment
Jeff Whelan and John Hassell
August 13, 2004

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McGreevey speech

Gov. James C. McGreevey, addressing the public from the Statehouse yesterday, reflects that the admission "I am a gay American" comes relatively late in his life, and he apologizes for hurting his family -- including, from left, his mother, Veronica, his wife, Dina, and his father, Jack -- through his extramarital affair. (Photo by Tony Kurdzuk/The Star-Ledger)

Gov. James E. McGreevey announced yesterday that he will resign, citing an adulterous affair with a male lover and declaring, "I am a gay American."

"Shamefully, I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony," the governor said from the Statehouse as his wife Dina stood, expressionless, at his side. "It was wrong. It was foolish. It was inexcusable."

McGreevey, the state's 51st chief executive and the first to quit under the cloud of scandal, said he will step down Nov. 15 to protect the governor's office from "rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure."

"I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality," he said in a blunt six-minute speech that threw the state political scene into turmoil. He added, "I am required ... to do what is right to correct the consequences of my actions."

Although McGreevey did not name his lover, top administration officials identified him as Golan Cipel, an Israeli citizen who resigned two years ago as the governor's homeland security adviser amid questions about his qualifications for the position.

Officials said they expected Cipel to file a lawsuit today in Superior Court in Mercer County, alleging sexual harassment. Cipel, a 35-year-old former public relations professional, could not be reached for comment.

Three administration sources said that a lawyer representing McGreevey, William Lawler, called the FBI in Newark yesterday morning to say Cipel was attempting to extort money from the governor. It was unclear why Lawler chose to file the complaint yesterday, or if the bureau had launched an investigation.

FBI Special Agent Steve Siegel, a spokesman for the Newark division, said the office would have no comment. A source close to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Newark, however, confirmed that "they are taking the allegations very seriously and the matter is currently under investigation."

By delaying his resignation until Nov. 15, McGreevey prevents a special election this fall to replace him, and instead allows the Democratic president of the state Senate, Dick Codey, to serve as acting governor for the remainder of McGreevey's four-year term, which ends in January 2006. McGreevey said his timing was designed "to facilitate a responsible transition."

Codey, echoing the sentiments of leading Democrats, expressed sadness over McGreevey's decision. "My heart goes out to Jim McGreevey and his family during this difficult personal time," Codey said. "Jim McGreevey is a good person and a good friend."

Republicans described the delay of McGreevey's departure as a ploy to preserve Democratic control of state government. Former Gov. Christie Whitman, for one, called for McGreevey to step aside immediately, saying any postponement "smacks of politics."

McGreevey's announcement, made shortly after 4 p.m., set off widespread speculation about who would run to replace him. Many leading Democrats reached out quickly to U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, who was traveling in California in his role as chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Corzine released a statement later saying, "I applaud the governor's decision to acknowledge a part of his identity for which he owes no one an apology." Addressing the calls for him to run, Corzine added: "Any speculation about my own political plans in light of the governor's decision is entirely premature."

If Corzine did mount a gubernatorial bid, his deep pockets and political connections probably would discourage many rivals, who potentially include Codey; Reps. Rob Andrews, Frank Pallone and Steve Rothman; and George Zoffinger, chairman of the state Sports and Exposition Authority.

On the Republican side, yesterday's news did little more than fan the ambitions of a large field of possible candidates. They include former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler; former Rep. Bob Franks; Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey; state Sens. Leonard Lance, Diane Allen and Tom Kean Jr.; businessman and former U.S. Senate candidate Douglas Forrester; Assemblyman Paul DiGaetano; Morris County Freeholder John Murphy; and Bergen County businessman Robert Schroeder.

McGreevey's speech, 690 words long, was stunningly direct, even by the standards of a self-revelatory era in American political life. Among other things, he acknowledged the pain he has caused to his wife, Dina, his former wife, Kari Schutz, and his two daughters, 3-year-old Jacqueline and 11-year-old Morag.

"From my early days in school until the present day, I acknowledged some feelings, a certain sense that separated me from others," he said.

"But because of my resolve, and also thinking that I was doing the right thing, I 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 and adult behavior.

"Yet, at my most reflective, maybe even spiritual, level, there were points in my life when I began to question what an acceptable reality really meant for me. Were there realities from which I was running? Which master was I trying to serve?"

McGreevey closeup

A moist-eyed Jim McGreevey delivers a Statehouse speech full of self-reflection. "At a point in every person's lfie, one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul," he said. (Photo by Matt Rainey/The Star-Ledger)

The governor finalized his decision to resign with top aides yesterday in the library of Drumthwacket, the governor's mansion in Princeton. Among those gathered were chief of staff Jamie Fox, chief counsel Michael DeCotiis, state party chief executive Kevin Hagan, Casino Reinvestment Development Authority executive director Curtis Bashaw and three top political consultants -- Steve DeMicco, Joel Benenson and Jim Margolis.

McGreevey presented the group with a draft of his speech, which he had written himself, and he resisted any heavy editing, several people present said. Then, shortly after 3:30, the governor and his wife joined his security detail in a two- vehicle motorcade to the Statehouse.

After his speech, McGreevey returned to Drumthwacket, spoke with his advisers for 10 minutes, then retired to the mansion's residential quarters with his family.

McGreevey met Cipel four years ago at a reception near Tel Aviv on a visit to Israel sponsored by the United Jewish Federation of MetroWest. At the time, Cipel was working as a spokesman for the mayor of his hometown, Rishon Lezion, after a stint as chief information officer for the Israeli Consulate in New York.

Six months later, McGreevey brought Cipel to New Jersey. From the summer of 2000 through the 2001 election, Cipel earned $30,000 a year as the Jewish outreach director for the state Democratic Party.

To supplement that salary, he also received $30,000 a year as an associate at a development firm owned by McGreevey's top political contributor, Charles Kushner.

Attorneys for Kushner -- who was arrested last month and accused of hiring prostitutes to blackmail federal witnesses -- denied yesterday that the fund-raiser has been cooperating in any matter involving McGreevey.

"Charles Kushner is no way involved in the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the government's resignation," said the attorneys, Jeff Smith and Alfred DeCotiis.

When Cipel arrived in New Jersey, McGreevey assigned campaign staffers to arrange for an apartment a tenth of a mile from McGreevey's own condominium in Woodbridge. Then, after winning the election, McGreevey took time out from his transition plans to accompany Cipel on a last-minute walk-through of the West Windsor townhouse Cipel was about to purchase.

According to the seller, Elaine Dietrich, Cipel said he wanted McGreevey to see the townhouse before he signed the contract. "I thought it was highly unusual," Dietrich said afterward. "I'm counsel to the administrative director of the courts, and I'm not going to ask (the director) to come look at my place and approve a purchase. ... You've got to admit, it's a little bizarre."

In January 2002, Cipel joined the governor's staff at $80,000 a year, a salary that was raised to $110,000 within six weeks with no explanation.

Hired as special counsel on homeland security, Cipel quickly encountered problems. Federal officials told The Star-Ledger that because Cipel was an Israeli national -- a foreigner who could not have top-secret security clearance -- they would refuse to share sensitive information with him.

Cipel resigned from the homeland security post after Republican leaders in the state Senate threatened to hold up key gubernatorial appointments until Cipel sat for questioning. Even so, Cipel retained the title of special counsel and his salary was unchanged.

In September 2002, McGreevey helped Cipel land a job at the prominent public relations and lobbying firm, MWW, for a salary of $120,000. The next month, just before MWW bosses planned to fire him, Cipel went to work for State Street Partners, the lobbying firm where McGreevey's best friend, Rahway Mayor James Kennedy, is a partner. There Cipel got a $30,000 raise, bringing his salary to $150,000.

Cipel's expected lawsuit against McGreevey, which officials said is likely to seek $5 million in damages, would come just before the expiration of a general two-year limitation on workplace sexual harassment claims. He resigned from state government Aug. 14, 2002.

McGreevey's resignation ends a political career that has consumed him since high school. He has always followed a fast track -- whether it was the quick succession of degrees from Columbia University, Georgetown University Law School and Harvard University's graduate school of education, or his early foray into politics.

From his first, successful run for the state Assembly in 1989 to his victory in the 2001 race for governor, McGreevey, 47, has maintained a dogged pace. Friends and foes alike have marveled at his peripatetic travels around the state, which often began well before dawn and lasted well into the night.

According to McGreevey, his work ethic came from his parents, a former Marine Corps drill instructor and a nurse, and from his blue- collar upbringing in Jersey City and Carteret. McGreevey got his favorite motto from his father: "Plan your work and work your plan."

By the time McGreevey made his first, unsuccessful bid for governor in 1997, he had compiled an impressive political résumé, with stints as a state senator and assemblyman, mayor of Woodbridge, executive director of the state Parole Board, assistant prosecutor in Middlesex County and a government lobbyist for the pharmaceutical giant Merck.

Many of McGreevey's political connections have come to haunt him in the past couple of months, however, as his administration has been shaken by a series of high- profile scandals.

In early July, one of McGreevey's top fund-raisers and friends, David D'Amiano, was indicted on charges that he extorted $40,000 in cash and political donations from a farm owner in return for his promise that the governor would help persuade county officials to double their bid for his farmland.

The indictment revealed McGreevey was secretly recorded by the FBI using the word "Machiavelli," which prosecutors said was a code word for the bribery scheme. No charges were brought against McGreevey, who was referred to in the indictment only as "State Official 1." The governor acknowledged uttering the word but said it was an innocent literary allusion. He denied any wrongdoing and accused the U.S. Attorney's Office of mounting a smear campaign against him.

A week later, federal authorities arrested Kushner, McGreevey's one-time pick to head the powerful Port Authority. Prosecutors say Kushner's efforts to entrap witnesses with prostitutes stemmed from an inquiry into allegations that he made illegal campaign and charitable contributions.

The next day, William Watley, McGreevey's commerce secretary, resigned amid conflict-of-interest questions and a state criminal investigation into spending at his agency. Authorities are reviewing if any laws were broken when the mother, sister and two sons of Watley's chief of staff were hired by the agency.

McGreevey's poll numbers had begun to rise earlier this year, after he pushed through a plan to increase income taxes on the wealthy to pay for larger property tax rebates for most New Jersey families. But a recent poll by Quinnipiac University showed the scandals ate away at the governor's public support, and by early this month, half of the state's voters said they had serious concerns about McGreevey's integrity.

Staff writers David Kinney, John P. Martin, Robert Rudolph, Josh Margolin, Robert Gebeloff, Christine V. Baird and Vinessa Erminio contributed to this report.