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Jim McGreevey and His Main Man

The AJC’s Twersky believes there may very well be a missing piece to the story. “Cipel’s case was incredibly weak and didn’t comport with any of the facts as I knew them. Remember, their relationship didn’t start when Cipel got the homeland-security job. That appointment was made in February 2002. McGreevey met him in Israel in March of 2000, long before he was governor. Cipel came here six months later, with Charles Kushner as his sponsor, in September. So there’s a long period of time when they’re just having sex. So where’s the harassment?”

Consequently, Twersky wonders why, if it was only the question of Cipel and the threat of a lawsuit, McGreevey didn’t simply tough it out. “You don’t understand how much this man wanted to be governor,” Twersky says. “For fifteen years, it was all he thought about. So why not just say, ‘Look, I’m gay. I’m sorry I hurt my family, and I’m sorry I lied to you, but we live in a world where I believed if I told you during the campaign, you wouldn’t have elected me. For the rest of my term, I’ll be the best governor possible, and you can decide if I should stay in 2005.’ ”

As far as giving Cipel a job on the state payroll goes, Twersky argues that politicians put relatives and friends and contributors in jobs all the time as payback for their allegiance. “Is it okay when it’s a payback for money but not for sex?” he asks.

One story line making the rounds in Trenton is that Kushner realized he was going down and decided that he wasn’t going alone. It was Kushner, then, who got Golan Cipel to threaten McGreevey with a lawsuit and force the governor’s resignation. There is, this theory goes, no other way to explain such incongruous details as Cipel’s demand that any settlement include a charter for a Touro College medical school. Everyone knew that Kushner was a Touro benefactor and wanted to help fund a medical school he could name after his mother.

“I want to be very clear about this,” says Brafman, carefully enunciating every syllable. “Charles Kushner had absolutely nothing to do with the recent controversy surrounding the governor and Golan Cipel. I was with Charles Kushner when he learned through the media that the governor was going to resign. He was stunned and visibly upset for his friend.”

One McGreevey consultant told me that Cipel’s threat to sue was the “irrational action” of a spurned lover. “When the governor finally ended their relationship, Cipel went off the rails,” he said.

In retrospect, there are questions about the seriousness of Cipel’s intention to ever file a lawsuit—and whether McGreevey’s lawyers should’ve recognized this. How determined to sue could he have been, given that he was represented by Allen Lowy, an entertainment lawyer not even licensed in New Jersey? And as soon as the story broke, Cipel bolted for the shelter of his home in Israel.

Indeed, there was something bizarre about that entire three-week period when the parties were trying to negotiate a settlement. Cipel’s demands changed several times, and at some point during negotiations McGreevey’s representatives contacted the FBI. Why would they do that unless they thought they were being extorted or believed they were being set up—that perhaps the whole thing was a sting? And as if to illustrate how tenuous a grip each side had on what was going on, there was the episode involving a lawyer and supposed friend of Cipel’s, who showed up for the negotiations and sat at the table, without anyone knowing who he was. Each side assumed he was with the other team.

“You know how they have the clowns at the circus riding in those little cars chasing each other?” says Marcus. “That’s what this was like. Going to the FBI was the dumbest decision anyone’s ever made. We have formed a firing squad in a circle, and we’re ready to shoot.”

When Jim McGreevey knew he had to finally tell the truth about his sexuality, the first straight person he told was State Senator Ray Lesniak, one of the architects of his political career and a close friend. He told him on a walk in the garden at Drumthwacket, the governor’s mansion in Princeton, less than 24 hours before the press conference.

“I think I’m gay,” the governor said to Lesniak.

“You think you’re gay?”

“I am gay,” he said, and the two men embraced.

The next morning, Lesniak returned to the mansion, anticipating that the governor was going to publicly announce he was gay, he’d had an affair with Golan Cipel, and he would not seek reelection. But things didn’t quite go that way. “There were five political consultants there that morning,” Lesniak says. “The governor’s regular consultant, his pollster, Hank Sheinkopf from New York City, and two Clinton-Gore people who’d flown in to help with the strategy.”

While there was lots of discussion, ultimately there was no disagreement, and somewhere around 12:30, the governor began to write his statement. “To a person, they all said the governor has to resign,” Lesniak recalls. “If he didn’t, everyone believed he’d probably be impeached by the Democratic Legislature, because they wouldn’t be able to stand the heat. If he fought this, it would’ve completely consumed him and he would’ve died a thousand deaths over it. The governor has been brought down by his sexual conflicts. That’s why he resigned. No other reason.”

McGreevey, according to Lesniak, has been transformed since that afternoon in the garden: “He has been totally liberated by this. He has exorcised his demons.”

Lesniak says McGreevey is ready to move forward with his life. They have talked almost daily since the revelation, with the governor focusing primarily on his early years. “He has talked about how difficult it was growing up in an Irish Catholic family and going to parochial school and being told over and over again what was expected of him and knowing he couldn’t be that way. He’s talked about the pain he went through thinking there was something wrong with him, that the feelings he had no control over made him a bad person. It became the driving force within him to be what he was expected to be, and, of course, he succeeded. But guess what? The feelings never went away.”

The governor, he says, will write a book and do the lecture circuit when he leaves office. “He’ll talk about how his liberation can serve as an example for other people who have been repressing these feelings and what can happen when you hold these feelings back. He’s not exactly going to be a gay activist, but he won’t shy away from what he sees as a real duty and responsibility to talk about his personal experience.”

It is no small irony, given their shared path to power, that the story of their relationship ends with McGreevey having been liberated—and Kushner on his way to prison.