Born James Edward McGreevey, August 6, 1957; son of Jack (a trucking company director) and Veronica (a nurse) McGreevey; married Kari Schutz (a librarian), c. 1991 (divorced, c. 1995); married Dina Matos (a public relations executive), 2000; children: Morag (daughter from first marriage), one other daughter (from second marriage). Politics: Democrat. Religion: Catholic. Education: Attended Catholic University; Columbia University, B.A., 1978; Georgetown University, J.D., 1981; Harvard University, M.A. (education), 1982.
Addresses: Home—New Jersey.
Worked as an assistant prosecutor, 1982-83; worked as an attorney for the Democrats in the state assembly; became director of the state parole board; became a lobbyist for Merck; elected to New Jersey state assembly, 1989; elected mayor of Woodbridge, NJ, 1991; elected to the state senate, 1993; ran unsuccessfully for governor of New Jersey, 1997; elected governor, 2001; resigned as governor, 2004.
James McGreevey, former governor of New Jersey, became America's first openly gay state governor in August of 2004 when he revealed he had engaged in an affair with another man. But that distinction was short-lived, and did not tell his whole story: in the same speech, he announced he would resign as governor three months later. His private life caused the last of several scandals that marred his governorship and sabotaged his reputation and his huge political ambitions.
Growing up in small-town Cateret, New Jersey, the young McGreevey seemed ambitious from the start. His father, Jack, director of a trucking company and a former drill instructor in the Marines, is said to have given him two pieces of advice, according to Jason Fagone of Philadelphia Magazine: "Plan your work, work your plan," and "Don't worry about being liked. Worry about being respected." (Once McGreevey's term as governor went downhill, writers and fellow politicians lamented that he did not take the second piece of advice.) His high school teachers predicted he would be governor someday.
McGreevey attended Catholic University for a while, then transferred to the more prestigious Columbia University, where he earned a bachelor's degree. He studied law at Georgetown University and earned a master's degree in education at Harvard University. He returned to New Jersey in 1982, spent a year as an assistant prosecutor, then worked as an attorney for the Democrats in the state assembly, became director of the state parole board, and became a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical company Merck.
After moving to Woodbridge, New Jersey's sixth-largest city, he began his political career in 1989 by running for state assemblyman. He won, and joined the assembly at age 32. The next year, he met his first wife, Kari Schutz, a librarian from Vancouver, on a cruise. They eventually had a daughter, Morag, but separated in 1995 and later divorced. The mayor of Woodbridge, Joseph DeMarino, took McGreevey under his wing, but in 1991, after DeMarino was indicted on a bribery charge (he was never convicted), McGreevey decided to run for mayor against his former mentor; McGreevey won.
Styling himself in the then-popular mold of President Bill Clinton, as a socially and fiscally moderate "New Democrat," McGreevey made political friends across New Jersey. He was elected to the state senate in 1993, holding that job and the Woodbridge mayor's office at the same time. He ran for governor in 1997, won the Democratic primary, and ran in the general election on a platform of property tax and auto-insurance reform. Though he was running against Christine Whitman, an incumbent governor with a moderate platform and national stature, McGreevey lost to her by around 25,000 votes. He made it clear he wanted to run for governor again in 2001, and he wrapped up the Democratic nomination with some furious politicking in late 2000. U.S. Senator Bob Torricelli announced that he wanted to be the Democratic nominee for governor, and for a moment it seemed like Torricelli would eclipse McGreevey's second effort. But McGreevey drove around the state, asking everyone he knew for support. When Sharpe James, the powerful mayor of Newark, endorsed McGreevey, Torricelli bailed out of the race after only 12 days.
Soon after, McGreevey married his second wife, Dina Matos, a public-relations executive (with whom he also has a child). They held their wedding in Washington, D.C., even though neither of them are from there. That puzzled the wedding guests until they got to the reception at the Hay-Adams Hotel, went up to the hotel's rooftop deck, and discovered the hotel's dramatic view of the White House. McGreevey's friends took it as a sign of his ambitions.
The path to the governor's office was much clearer for McGreevey the second time around. Instead of Whitman, his opponent was a conservative Republican, Bret Schundler, which made McGreevey the favorite, since New Jersey is a Democratic state. McGreevey won the election by 14 percentage points and became governor at age 44. In his January of 2002 inauguration speech, he quoted Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. and promised (according to Fagone in Philadelphia Magazine) to "change the way Trenton does business" (referring to the capital of New Jersey)—a promise that disillusioned critics would soon hold against him.
Scandal dragged McGreevey's administration down almost from the start. His chief counsel and chief of staff resigned while under investigation for allegedly using their positions working for McGreevey to generate profits for their billboard company. The governor's commerce secretary and chief of the state police—the latter a candidate McGreevey picked as a favor to Newark mayor James—also left because of conflict-of-interest questions.
"It seemed like [McGreevey's] loyalty was blind loyalty," David Rebovich, a political science professor at Rider University, told David Kocieniewski of the New York Times as McGreevey's governorship drew to a close. Republicans went further, saying McGreevey tried to do too many favors for donors and political bosses, with little or no attention to ethics. "Jim McGreevey put a 'For Sale' sign on New Jersey government," Larry Weitzner, a Republican political consultant, told Kocieniewski. A trip McGreevey took to Ireland got him in more trouble with voters. It cost the taxpayers $105,000, including the cost of an expensive hotel room, a rented Mercedes-Benz, and a family reunion.
McGreevey's worst mistake, however, was the hiring of Israeli poet and public relations specialist Golan Cipel; it would eventually destroy his career. McGreevey met Cipel, a former spokesman at the Israeli consulate in New York City, in 2000 on a trip to Israel. Soon after, Cipel moved to New Jersey and took a job as the McGreevey campaign's liaison with the state's Jewish community. When McGreevey became governor—mere months after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks killed hundreds of New Jersey residents—he named Cipel his special assistant on homeland security. Cipel was clearly unqualified. As a non-citizen, he could not even get federal security clearance. Reporters and Republican lawmakers severely questioned the hire, and McGreevey changed Cipel's responsibilities, renaming him a "special counsel." By August of 2002, Cipel had left state government for a lobbying job.
The constant scandal news hurt McGreevey's popularity. A July of 2003 poll showed only 35 percent of New Jersey residents approved of the job he was doing. The questions about McGreevey's activities kept coming. The next year, the governor was implicated in a bribery scheme. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into allegations that a trash hauler and McGreevey supporter was trying to extort money and contributions from a landowner. Agents taped McGreevey talking to the landowner and mentioning the 16th-century Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli. Prosecutors claimed they had been told that Machiavelli was a code word meant to show the governor was part of a bribery plot, but McGreevey insisted it was merely a literary reference.
Soon after came the final scandal. McGreevey called a press conference in August of 2004 and announced that he was gay and would resign. "My truth is that I am a gay American," he said in his speech, according to John Cloud in Time. He added that he had had a consensual affair with another man and that he would resign three months later, on November 15, 2004, to protect the governor's office from "false allegations and threats of disclosure," according to Newsweek.
The dramatic "gay American" part of the speech seemed meant to focus attention on McGreevey's coming out of the closet. Some people did sympathize with him for that reason. But there was more to the story. His advisers soon told reporters that the man he had the affair with was Cipel, the former homeland security adviser, and that Cipel had threatened to sue McGreevey for sexual harassment. Cipel's lawyers soon held a press conference and read a statement from their client claiming he was "the victim of repeated sexual advances" by the governor, wrote Time's Cloud. Cipel also alleged that McGreevey and his aides retaliated against him "when I finally dared to reject Governor McGreevey's advances." McGreevey's aides retorted that Cipel and his lawyers had attempted to extort either a financial settlement or political favors in return for his silence.
The acknowledgement that McGreevey had either sexually harassed an aide or installed someone he had had a romantic relationship with in an important position struck many people as the last and perhaps worst of McGreevey's scandals. Political observers also attacked McGreevey for waiting three months to resign. It was, they said, clearly timed to avoid a special election for governor in November of 2004 and ensure that state senate president Richard Codey, a Democrat, would automatically become governor.
In his last three months in office, McGreevey became bolder. He issued an executive order that bans those who have contracts with state government from making campaign contributions. He also approved a controversial needle-exchange program for drug addicts, meant to fight the spread of AIDS, that he had avoided supporting earlier in his term. Critics noted sadly that McGreevey had lacked the courage to take those stands until he knew his political career was almost over.
In a farewell address in November of 2004, a few days before his resignation, McGreevey said his proudest accomplishments included reforming New Jersey's child welfare system, enacting a land-preservation plan, and signing a domestic partnership law to protect gay couples. But the New York Times' Kocieniewski, summing up McGreevey's legacy on his last day in office, declared that until McGreevey announced he was going to resign, "he never managed to free himself from the contributors and party bosses who orchestrated his election" and instead indulged "his instinct to accommodate whoever he was talking to."
For someone who had campaigned as a moderate, Kocieniewski added, McGreevey had "embraced a surprisingly liberal agenda: doling out fat contracts to union supporters, indulging in a torrent of borrowing and spending, and enacting laws that legalized stem cell research and domestic partnerships for gay couples." The writer gave McGreevey credit for improving state government's efficiency, as he had promised. Despite the catastrophic hiring of Cipel, Kocieniewski added, McGreevey had improved New Jersey's counterterrorism work. But his environmental record was mixed; at the same time he had supported an ambitious land-preservation plan, he also rolled back development rules in a way that was considered likely to worsen suburban sprawl. (At the end of his time in office, he suspended the rollback for a few months.)
Just before McGreevey left office, he moved from the governor's mansion to an apartment in the town of Rahway, while his wife bought a house in another town. Friends of McGreevey said he was joining Weiner Lesniak, the law firm of his friend, state senator Raymond J. Lesniak, but this had not been confirmed at the time of his resignation. The press speculated that he might rehabilitate his image by promoting causes he believes in, such as stem cell research and gay rights. Still, he may never escape his reputation as a politician who gave too many favors to friends and only took principled stands when he had nothing left to lose.
Newsweek, August 23, 2004, p. 24.
New York Times, November 9, 2004, p. B1; November 15, 2004, p. B1; November 16, 2004, p. B1.
Philadelphia Magazine, September 2003, p. 84.
Time, August 23, 2004, p. 22.
"Jim McGreevey," Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_McGreevey (November 28, 2004).