In the days after New Jersey Gov. Jim McGreevy, a Democrat, made a resignation speech that contained the stunning declaration, “I am a gay American,” new details have begun to emerge about his sexual affair with a former male aide while state Republican leaders have called on the governor to immediately step down from office, not in November as McGreevy plans. “It is my suspicion that there will be more awkward stories in the days and weeks to come - stories that will make it very difficult for him to carry out the duties of his office,” said state Republican Chairman Joe Kyrillos.
During his nationally televised speech on Thursday afternoon, Dina Matos, his wife of four years, and his parents at his side, McGreevy, 47, acknowledged he had an extra-marital affair with a man, without mentioning that the man was a former campaign aide and subordinate who first began working for McGreevy during his second, successful gubernatorial campaign in 2002. News reports subsequently identified the former employee as Golan Cepil, 35, an Israeli national, who first met McGreevy in 1999 when he traveled to Israel as the mayor of Woodbury.
On Thursday, McGreevy said that he did not want to embroil the governor’s office in a scandal and that his homosexuality was not an impediment to being an effective governor. “It makes little difference as a governor that I am gay,” said McGreevy at one point in his six-minute speech. Rather, said McGreevy, a practicing Roman Catholic, he had violated his marriage vows. “Shamefully, I engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man, which violates my bonds of matrimony,” said McGreevey, the father of two daughters, one from a previous marriage. “It was wrong, it was foolish, it was inexcusable.”
Rumors about the two men had circulated in Trenton since McGreevy’s inauguration, due in part to Cipel’s installation as a highly paid political appointee. A former press officer for New York’s Israeli consulate, and a veteran officer of the Israeli navy, Cipel lived in New York City from 1995-1999 while getting a degree from the New York Institute of Technology. McGreevy met Cipel when the then-Woodbridge mayor visited the Israeli town of Rishon Letzion. By 2000, on a return trip to Israel, McGreevy decided to bring Cipel to the United States, and the young Israeli was given a work visa after Charles Kushner, a discredited top McGreevy donor, gave gave him a $30,000 marketing job. Subsequently, McGreevy hired Cipel for his second campaign, and as part of his $1,550 weekly salary, Cipel did outreach work with New Jersey’s 495,000 Jewish voters. Last month, Kushner was arrested after he tried to blackmail his brother-in-law with a videotape involving a prostitute.
None of Cipel’s early job moves seemed to attract much attention. At the time, McGreevy was considered a charismatic star of the Democratic Party with a solid chance of becoming the state’s next governor and providing stability following Christie Todd Whitman’s sudden departure to take over the EPA in the Bush administration and the scandal-ridden interim term of acting-governor Donald DiFrancesco, president of the state Senate.
However, when McGreevy hired Cipel as the state’s homeland security chief, which paid $110,000, the fifth highest salary out of all gubernatorial appointees, it raised eyebrows. Federal law enforcement officials, Republicans and newsreporters immediately blasted the appointment, calling Cipel unfit for a position that was created in each state to mobilize counter terrorism efforts in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Federal homeland security officials would not grant Cipel, a non-citizen, any security clearances.
Nevertheless, McGreevy stood by Cipel, who eschewed the news cameras and let the governor defend his credentials, including his stint in the Navy, as sufficient training for the post. Cipel only lasted six months as the security chief, but apparently still occupied an office on the second floor of the Statehouse and did political work for McGreevy. Eventually, McGreevy arranged for Cipel to work for two lobbying firms, MMW Group, where Kushner was a major client, and State Street Partners, where McGreevy’s best friend Rahway Mayor James Kennnedy is a partner. State Street hired Cipel at an annual $150,000 salary before firing him for absenteeism. Little is known about how much involvement McGreevy and Cipel have had since that firing, but apparently they had contact.
On the steps of Manhattan’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice on Friday, Cipel attorney Allan Lowy read a statement from his client, who is in hiding, in which Cipel alleged that he is the victim of a smear campaign and was sexually harassed by McGreevy during his state employment. “While employed by one of the most powerful politicians in the country, New Jersey Governor McGreevy, I was the victim of repeated sexual advances by him,” Cipel said in the statement. “When I finally dared to reject Governor McGreevy’s advances, the retaliatory actions taken by him and members of his administration were nothing short of abuse and intimidation.”
McGreevy mentioned in his Thursday speech that the relationship was consensual, but Cipel made no specific reference to any sexual history between the two men.
The two-year statute of limitations on a sexual harassment claim expired on Saturday, August 14, without Cipel filing a lawsuit against his former boss.
“After a long period of pain and introspection, I realized that in order to live my life, to move forward with my life, I needed to put this behind me. But the only way to do this was to have Governor McGreevey take responsibility publicly for his horrible actions, which he did by resigning from public office,” Cipel said in his statement.
On July 23, Lowy had contacted McGreevy’s office and informed him that Cipel was going to come forward with his allegations. Since then, Lowy and attorneys for McGreevy have been in contact, with Cipel refusing to appear and answer questions from state officials and McGreevy aides alleging that Cipel attempted to extort money from the governor. Various news reports on Friday put the alleged blackmail sum between $5 million and $20 million dollars, but Lowy strenuously denied that Cipel ever set out to make money from his complaint.
The FBI, which is investigating the matter, has apparently been in contact with Cipel who two homes in New Jersey and the Upper West Side, but has not been seen in public.
According to state law, if McGreevey had officially left office before mid-September, a special election would have been held in November to choose a new governor. Because he is waiting until November 15 to leave office, state Senate Democratic Majority Leader Richard Codey will assume the rest of McGreevey’s term until January of 2006.
Codey has been a steadfast supporter of gay rights in New Jersey, including the recent passage of a domestic partnership law, one of the nation’s most comprehensive. At the time McGreevy signed the legislation into law, some same-sex marriage proponents, including litigants in a state marriage lawsuit, criticized the governor for his assertion that marriage was “between one man and one woman,” with some writers in online chat rooms openly mentioning Cipel’s name.