Three weeks ago Governor James McGreevey of New Jersey announced that he was gay, that he had engaged in an extramarital affair with another man, and that he would resign his post as governor on Nov. 15 of this year. For the majority of McGreevey’s six-minute speech, he described the difficult personal journey that had led him to that day’s announcement. Many observers of the speech naturally responded to his speech with sympathy and forgiveness.
Yet were the revelations of that speech enough to justify McGreevey’s resignation? Over the past several years numerous politicians have “come out of the closet,” some in far more conservative states than New Jersey, yet these politicians neither resigned nor experienced a noticeable negative impact on their political careers. For example, in 1996 Republican Representative Jim Kolbe of Arizona announced that he was gay, yet he has won all of his elections since that announcement. Similarly, Democratic Representative Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who was reprimanded for hiring a male prostitute as an aide, has successfully defended his office since 1980. Former President Bill Clinton engaged in an extramarital affair and lied about it under oath, yet he did not feel compelled to resign and he continues to maintain a position of prominence in the Democratic Party.
Why, then, did McGreevey resign? For the past three years, ethical and criminal accusations have been filed, in ever tightening circles, against the men and women involved in McGreevey’s campaign and administration. Nineteen of McGreevey’s campaign fundraisers have either been indicted or are under investigation. McGreevy’s number one fundraiser, Charles Kushner, recently pleaded guilty to blackmailing a witness who was testifying against him in a campaign finance investigation.
The whole McGreevey operation stinks of backroom dealing and suspicious campaign financing. In fact, on July 9, just over a month before McGreevey announced his resignation, the New Jersey U.S. Attorney’s Office indicted David D’Amiano — a fundraiser and longtime friend of McGreevy — for promising a campaign donor preferential treatment from local and state government in exchange for a sizable campaign contribution. Though McGreevey was not charged, the indictment included statements from a taped conversation between the donor and McGreevey. On the tape, McGreevey uses the word “Machiavelli,” which prosecutors have identified as a code signaling McGreevey’s explicit endorsement of the illegal deal. McGreevey claims that his use of the word Machiavelli was coincidental — a claim that, while possible, seems fairly unlikely.
Moreover, the circumstances surrounding McGreevey’s affair are under dispute. McGreevey claims that he engaged in a consensual affair with Golan Cipel, an Israeli employed briefly as McGreevey’s special advisor on homeland security and, later, as a personal advisor to the governor. According to McGreevey, Cipel threatened to file a sexual harassment lawsuit against McGreevey unless he was paid $5 million. Cipel, on the other hand, claims that he is not gay and that McGreevey coerced him into several sexual encounters. These conflicting accounts throw yet more doubt on the sincerity of McGreevey’s speech.
Perhaps McGreevey is innocent of wrongdoing. The more likely scenario, however, is that McGreevey either tacitly approved of corrupt campaign financing or actively encouraged it. Faced with increasingly aggressive federal prosecutors, McGreevey chose the course of action that was best for the New Jersey Democratic Party, for the corrupt members of his administration, and for himself: resignation.
McGreevey’s speech of August 12 was certainly a savvy political move. By postponing his resignation until Nov. 15, McGreevey avoided a special election on Nov. 2 and ensured that the Democratic President of the New Jersey Senate would serve out the remaining year of McGreevey’s term as governor. By resigning under the pretext of a homosexual affair, McGreevey removed some of the prosecutorial heat from himself and the supporters of his administration. Lastly, by issuing an emotional account of his personal struggle with his sexual identity, McGreevey attempted to replace his administration’s reputation of corruption with the courageous legacy that rightfully belongs to the law abiding gay citizens of this country. McGreevey should not be remembered as the courageous governor who came out in front of America. He should be remembered as the politician who failed the citizens of New Jersey and used the noble struggle of this country’s homosexual community for his own selfish purposes.
Steve Starr is a senior in Saybrook College.