The Governor's Secret Life

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Golan Cipel has accused Jim McGreevey (r) of sexual harassment

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Like so many other gays who have come out, McGreevey was plainly relieved after the news conference. "When he came back into that room yesterday, I saw this great sense of a burden being lifted," says New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority president George Zoffinger, who has been friends with McGreevey for 15 years. Zoffinger says he didn't know McGreevey was gay until the day the Governor announced it. "He holds this in for 20 years of public life. Can you imagine having to tell your wife and family? They did not know." McGreevey told them only the day before he told the nation, according to Zoffinger.

But as others pointed out, McGreevey's act of revelation also functioned as an act of concealment. "McGreevey did a good job saying 'I'm a gay American' and making a hero of himself," says one of his former advisers, "but that's not the story"--at least not the whole story. The whole story is found not just in the Governor's inner turmoil but in the slosh and intrigue of New Jersey politics.

Jim McGreevey met Golan Cipel (Pronounced Tsi-ple, rhymes with ripple) on a junket to Israel in 2000, when McGreevey was mayor of Woodbridge, N.J. At the time, McGreevey was a rising Democratic star — mayor of the state's sixth largest city and the man who had three years earlier come within a whisper of unseating Governor Christine Todd Whitman. Among the stops on the tour, sponsored in part by the United Jewish Communities of MetroWest, New Jersey's biggest Jewish philanthropy, was the city of Rishon le-Ziyyon, south of Tel Aviv. Cipel then worked as the city's spokesman. According to MetroWest's vice president, Max Kleinman, McGreevey met Cipel, who is 12 years younger, at a reception.

They hit it off immediately, says former New Jersey Jewish News editor David Twersky, who later became friends with Cipel. In the late 1990s, Cipel had worked as a press officer at the Israeli consulate in New York City. Gideon Mark, who was Cipel's boss there, says Cipel handled both national and New Yorkarea news outlets, which would have given him some familiarity with New Jersey. "He was talented but not brilliant," says Colette Avital, the consul general at the time. Another person who worked with Cipel back then says he "was the kind of guy who was politically ambitious ... He wanted to rub shoulders" with dignitaries.

He got his chance to do so with McGreevey, who "saw something in me," Cipel would later tell Twersky. Within months, the Israeli had relocated to New Jersey to work for McGreevey's gubernatorial campaign as liaison to the state's Jewish community. "It was a strange choice," says someone who held a senior position in the campaign. "He was an Israeli and obviously a Jew, but that didn't mean he knew anything about the Jewish community of New Jersey." Cipel's relocation to New Jersey was facilitated by real estate impresario Charles Kushner, a top contributor to McGreevey and the Democratic Party. In addition to sponsoring Cipel's U.S. visa, Kushner gave the Israeli a p.r. job worth $30,000 to supplement his meager campaign salary.

After McGreevey won the election, he blundered his way through the beginning of his term, and has presided — to this day — over an administration beset by ethical lapses. McGreevey's commerce secretary, chief of staff and state police director have all departed under various conflict-of-interest charges. And Kushner was recently charged in a bizarre sex scandal; he allegedly sent his sister a tape of her husband having sex with a prostitute in an effort to gain leverage over his brother-in-law, who was cooperating in an investigation of Kushner's finances. Finally, McGreevey was caught on an FBI tape using the word "Machiavelli." Prosecutors said it was a code word to trigger a bribery scheme, but the Governor said it was merely a literary allusion.

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