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The Making of a Gay American

The home McGreevey shares with his partner, Mark O'Donnell, in Plainfield, New Jersey.  

An intense and inevitable thing happens after you win a big election. The jostling for power is wild. Republicans had controlled the governor’s mansion for sixteen of the past twenty years, and now we were overwhelmed by pressure to bring Democrats and their supporters in from the cold.

All my financial contributors were vying for payback as well. My goal had been to raise $40 million for the campaign, which, unless you’re a Clinton or a Bush, is an obscene amount to pull out of pockets. You can’t take large sums of money from people without making them specific and personal promises in return. People weren’t shy about saying what they expected for their “investments”—board appointments to the Sports Authority or the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, for example, which were coveted not just for their prestige but because they offered control over tremendously potent economic engines, with discretionary budgets in the tens of millions. The plum was the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; directors there controlled a multi-billion-dollar budget. I tried to stay as naïve about this horse trading as possible. But I allowed my staff to intimate things to donors. This is the daredevil’s dance every politician faces.

Some appointments drew quick criticism. Republicans were all over my decision to appoint Charlie Kushner, who with his family and business had donated more than $1 million to my campaigns, to the board of the Port Authority. They complained it was political payback, but that was wrong. Kushner refused my appointment three times before finally accepting.

At the same time, I was trying to staff my administration. Golan made it plain that he wanted a significant portfolio in Trenton. Several times a day he demanded meetings to discuss his future. I found his insistence both boyishly charming and unbelievably churlish. My staff saw only the churlish side. He moved himself into the transition office, bragging that he had a “personal relationship” with me that gave him unassailable insights into my likes and dislikes. He demanded to look at office-assignment charts and even redrafted my inaugural speech, all without my authority. Finally, when I’d had enough, I went to his apartment to talk to him about diplomacy and office politics. It was a fastidious place, with a fluffy cat I was surprised to learn he’d named Jimmy.

“Gole,” I said. “You’ve got to learn to be part of the team.”

“My only team is you,” he said.

As the transition efforts progressed, I found myself increasingly relying on his advice and candor. His main interest was fighting terrorism; he was consumed by the subject. One night he made me drive with him to the foot of the George Washington Bridge to watch the police screening large trucks there in a method he considered inadequate.

“Any one of those parked trucks could blow up the bridge,” he said. Nothing about my education so far had prepared me to think that way. But Golan had grown up under the threat of terror. Talking to him, I realized that New Jersey needed an office of counterterrorism to think about security and anticipate trouble.

On our private security stakeouts around the state, something else was happening. A tension was growing between us that excited me. He talked about girlfriends and I talked about Dina, but there was a thick subtext to our conversations that was about the two of us.

On December 10 or 11, after I rebuffed several requests for meetings, Golan reached me on my cell phone, upset that I’d been out of touch. I invited him over to the condo for a late dinner, to assure him that he had a future in the administration. He arrived in a suit and tie, dressed impeccably as always. With Dina still in the hospital with our newborn, I was left to my own devices for dinner. I think we ate cold cereal.

He was politely appreciative. We sat at the dining-room table talking and half- watching the cable news, our shared addiction. I don’t know at what point it occurred to me that something more was about to happen. But I know how it started. I stretched out on the couch and placed my legs over his knees, as I’d done previously in the car. I then leaned forward and hugged him, and kissed his neck. His response was immediate and loving.

It was wrong to do. I wasn’t an ordinary citizen anymore. There were state troopers parked outside. My wife was in the hospital. And he was my employee. But I took Golan by the hand and led him upstairs to my bed. He kissed me. It was the first time in my life that a kiss meant what it was supposed to mean—it sent me through the roof. I pulled him to the bed and we made love like I’d always dreamed: a boastful, passionate, whispering, masculine kind of love. When he was gone, I realized that this might all explode on me one day, but I just didn’t care. I felt invincible then.