WASHINGTON — The public doesn't yet know the full story of New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevey's resignation, which he announced on Thursday, but won’t be effective until Nov. 15.
In their immediate reactions Thursday, some New Jersey residents sensed that things weren’t quite as they appeared with McGreevey’s announcement.
"To each his own," Vera Allen of Newark told the Associated Press after hearing word of the governor’s gay confession and planned resignation.
"As long as he's doing his job, it shouldn't make a difference." She added, "As long as his wife could deal with it (McGreevey’s gay liaison), it shouldn't matter. Tell me how many people out there had an affair. The president had one," she said, alluding to President Clinton.
McGreevey himself said at one point in his statement, “It makes little difference that as governor I am gay.”
If so, why not finish his term and make history as America’s first openly gay governor, getting praise from gay rights groups for his courage?
State support for gay rights
If a governor in Kentucky or Utah suddenly revealed he’d been carrying on an adulterous homosexual affair, that might compel him to resign. But New Jersey is a socially liberal state with a gay rights record.
In the most recent legislative scorecard issued by the gay advocacy group, the Human Rights Campaign, both of New Jersey’s senators got a perfect 100 percent score from the HRC, as did seven of its 13 House members, while two others got above-average 67 percent ratings.
New Jersey was the state where, in 1999, Boy Scout leader James Dale, after being ousted from his scoutmaster position because he was gay, successfully sued under the state’s law prohibiting sexual orientation discrimination, with the New Jersey Supreme Court unanimously ruling in his favor.
Just as pretending to be straight has sometimes been a smokescreen for being gay, in McGreevey’s case, the admission of being gay — which once would have been shocking, but is no longer so in the era of "Will & Grace" — seemed to be a diversion from something else.
“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,” McGreevey said Thursday.
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Threat of disclosure
Politicians deal with rumors and false allegations nearly every day, usually brushing them away as annoyances.
But what about “threats of disclosure”? Disclosure of what? The governor disclosed the fact of his gay romance Thursday, which should have ended its potency as blackmail.
But sources close to McGreevey told the Associated Press and other news organizations that the man with whom McGreevey had his romance was Golan Cipel, an Israeli whom McGreevey appointed in 2002 to be his closest adviser on counterterrorism, at an annual cost to New Jersey’s taxpayers of $110,000 a year.
"Golan has served in the Israeli military. He is uniquely qualified to point out weaknesses," McGreevey told the Bergen Record in February of 2002. McGreevey said Cipel had offered "invaluable insights" into security issues.
State legislators protested that Cipel was unqualified and within weeks McGreevey was forced to shunt him to another job (still at a cost of $110,000 a year) because as a non-citizen, he was ineligible for security clearances, and the Secret Service and FBI would not provide intelligence to him.
A McGreevey aide told the Associated Press Thursday that Cipel had threatened McGreevey with a lawsuit unless he were paid "millions of dollars.”
Link to donor
Cipel is another link between McGreevey and his former top donor, Charles Kushner, who was charged last month with obstructing a federal investigation into his business dealings by hiring two prostitutes to set up videotaped encounters with potential witnesses against him.
In 2001, Kushner sponsored Cipel’s work visa, allowing him to enter the United States.
McGreevey's announcement Thursday sets a sort of milestone for gay politicians, just as did the election 30 years ago of Kathy Kozachenko, the first openly gay person to win elective office in the United States when she won a seat on the Ann Arbor, Mich. city council.
The first openly gay governor is also the first openly gay governor to be forced to quit under a cloud of governmental and financial, not sexual, scandal.
In this sense, the McGreevey case is now establishing a kind of equality of treatment for gay and straight politicians: Kentucky Gov. Paul Patton, a Democrat, left office in late 2003, in disrepute due to a scandal involving his appointment to a state board of a woman with whom he later admitted to having an "inappropriate personal relationship" and his alleged use of state agencies to retaliate against her after the relationship went sour.
In the wake of the Patton scandal, Republican Ernie Fletcher, won election as Kentucky’s governor.
If McGreevey is formally charged with misusing the powers of his office by appointing Cipel, New Jersey voters, long inundated by indictments and investigations of their elected officials, may feel a need to demonstrate their revulsion at the ballot box.
But unlike voters in Kentucky in 2003, they can’t demonstrate it by voting in a Republican governor on Election Day.
That is because McGreevey, by delaying his resignation, has ensured that there will be no special election for governor this year. Voters will need to wait until November of 2005 to elect a new one.
McGreevey's gambit resembles the maneuver New Jersey Democratic leaders, including McGreevey himself, used in September 2002 to pull Sen. Robert Torricelli off the ballot three days after a poll showed him losing by 13 points to Republican underdog Doug Forrester.
Torricelli had been reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee for accepting gifts from a campaign contributor.
McGreevey was standing by Torricelli's side at the press conference at which Torricelli bowed out of the race, making way for former Sen. Frank Lautenberg who succeeded in holding the seat for the Democrats.
Can Bush compete in Jersey?
The importance of the McGreevey affair for George Bush and John Kerry is that there is a real scandal, below the non-scandalous revelation of McGreevey being gay, which just might put New Jersey closer to being in play in the presidential race.
Four years ago, Democrat Al Gore won New Jersey by more than 500,000 votes (nearly 16 percentage points). It was never going to be easy for Bush to make New Jersey a battleground this year.
New Jersey was far from a battleground before McGreevey’s announcement. In an Aug. 5 poll Quinnipiac University found that Kerry enjoyed a 49 percent to 36 percent lead over Bush among New Jersey voters, with 6 percent opting for independent Ralph Nader.
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