Political Hay

The Truth Has Set New Jersey Free

Jim McGreevey’s swing state is now in play.

By 8.13.04

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Yesterday morning the New Jersey Republican State Committee gleefully paraded a new poll indicating that when New Jersey residents thought about the state's Democratic governor, Jim McGreevey, two words came to mind: political corruption. By yesterday afternoon, those had been replaced by two new words: Gay American.

"My truth is that I am a gay American," announced a teary-eyed McGreevey, sending jaws plunging across the Garden State. And he wasn't done. "I am also here today because, shamefully, I engaged in an adult, consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony. It was wrong, it was foolish, it was inexcusable, and for this I ask the forgiveness and the grace of my wife." It captures something of the surrealism of the press conference that the governor's announcement of his resignation--effective November 15th--seemed like the height of sensibility.

And in many ways it was. Since assuming office in 2002, McGreevey has presided over an administration that set new standards for corruption -- and this in a state responsible for the ethically challenged Robert Torricelli. Only last month, one of the governor's fundraisers, David D'Amiano, was indicted on federal charges of extorting $40,000 in political donations and bribes. He was in disreputable company. Real estate developer Charles Kushner, the chairman of Kushner Companies and the most generous donor to McGreevey's 2001 gubernatorial campaign, was charged with paying a call girl $25,000 to videotape her having sex with a witness cooperating in a grand jury probe of his taxes.

It was Kushner who connected McGreevey with the man with whom the governor apparently had an affair, Golan Cipel. In January 2001, McGreevey tapped Cipel, then a marketing staffer for Kushner, to serve as his homeland security adviser at a yearly salary of $110,000. Amazingly, no background check or official statement attended the announcement.

The appointment stirred a statewide furor. As it happened, Cipel, a former Israeli sailor and a published poet, had little to recommend him for the critical post. Mere months after a terrorist attack on New York City, the governor's pick for the state's top security office lacked both security clearance and a law enforcement experience. His background was in television news and public relations. Indeed, Cipel, an Israeli national, was not even an American citizen.

Facing surging criticism, McGreevey demoted Cipel to a minor station as his special counselor. From there, Cipel became the governor's liaison to the Jewish community. Meantime, New Jersey's Star Ledger reported on McGreevey's efforts to land Cipel an apartment near the governor's Woodbridge home. According to reporter Josh Margolin, the Cipel "wanted to have a place that was in close proximity to where the governor was because he was a personal advisor on call 24 hours."

Whisperings surfaced that McGreevey, who campaigned with the theme "Straight Talk," was anything but straight. Yesterday's announcement simply connected the dots; but it also suggested that McGreevey's self-outing was a desperate bid to head off a serious political embarrassment. Said McGreevey, "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."

Likely, he had in mind a law suit, slated to become public within the next 24 hours, and detailing his affair with Cipel. All this casts doubt on the emerging media theme that McGreevey's announcement added up to a "gutsy" move that required substantial political "courage." After all, the twice-married McGreevey had ample opportunity to inform his family of his confused sexual inclinations. He did not. Consequently, it's a stretch to imagine that McGreevey's disclosure was anything more than a desperate form of crisis management.

All this bids fair to ensure for the long term New Jersey's unhappy position at the butt of national jokes. (Already, McGreevey's philandering has wags tweaking New Jersey's "swing state" status.) Nonetheless, it's good news for the Bush campaign and for New Jersey. A state that formerly seemed like a lock for the Kerry campaign -- according to last Sunday's Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll Kerry is up by 20 percent -- is now due for a backlash against the resident Democratic Party. Whether Republican strategists can parlay that resentment into support for the GOP presidential ticket remains to be seen. But this much is clear: If the truth has set Jim McGreevey free, it has also unburdened New Jersey of one of the most corrupt administration's in recent history.

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About the Author

Jacob Laksin is a writer in New York City.