The Governor's Secret Life

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

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In this pageant of alleged malfeasance, Golan Cipel was the first sign of trouble. The day McGreevey took his oath of office — Jan. 15, 2002--he quietly named Cipel his special assistant on homeland security. Although it was just four months after 9/11, Cipel did not undergo an extensive background check. Cipel had served as only a low-ranking officer in the Israeli navy and had no counterterrorism expertise. Despite his thin qualifications, he received a $110,000 salary. When reporters started asking questions, McGreevey refused to order a full vetting of Cipel and wouldn't make him available for interviews. After it was revealed that Cipel couldn't even obtain federal clearance to see top-secret data because he is a foreigner, he left the homeland-security post for an undefined "special counsel" job in McGreevey's office. He quit state government altogether in August 2002.

Rumors had gone around Woodbridge for years that McGreevey might be gay. Even before controversy broke over Cipel's homeland-security job, at least two reporters had asked McGreevey about the gossip. "That old thing," the Governor told Twersky some time in the summer of 2001. "I can't believe they're bringing that up."

Before Cipel departed, McGreevey defended the young man as "someone who thinks with a different set of eyes," according to the Bergen Record. It was a deeply mixed metaphor, but McGreevey was interested in more than Cipel's eyes anyway. Though the Governor did not name Cipel in his coming-out speech last week, his advisers told reporters that Cipel was the guy McGreevey was talking about when he said he had "engaged in an adult consensual affair with another man."

But the well-respected Israeli newspaper Ha'Aretz quoted Cipel's lawyers Alan Lowy and Rachel Yosevitz as saying that Cipel is heterosexual and that there was no affair. At a rain-drenched press conference in Manhattan on Friday, Lowy read a statement from his client portraying the Governor as something of a sexual aggressor. "While employed by one of the most powerful politicians in the country, New Jersey Governor McGreevey, I was the victim of repeated sexual advances by him," the statement said. "When I finally dared to reject Governor McGreevey's advances, the retaliatory actions taken by him and members of his administration were nothing short of abuse and intimidation."

McGreevey's press secretary denied any strong-arming, and late Friday the two sides traded bitter accusations. McGreevey's team spread the story that in July Cipel sent word to the Governor that if he didn't get a $5 million settlement, he would noisily file a sexual-harassment lawsuit. Another version of events — reported Friday on the local NBC affiliate — says Cipel sought not money for himself but political favors for Touro College, where Kushner, his visa sponsor, is a board member. Kushner attorney Benjamin Brafman says he "absolutely, categorically" rejects the "seedy rumor" that Kushner is behind Cipel's suit. The Governor's people say they eventually came to view Cipel's demands as extortion and reported him and Lowy to the FBI, which is investigating. For his part, Lowy, who like the Governor didn't take questions, says McGreevey's representatives offered his client hush money "without provocation." Cipel has filed no lawsuit so far, but Lowy didn't rule one out.

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