TRENTON, N.J. – When Gov. James E. McGreevey (search) named a young, inexperienced former Israeli sailor named Golan Cipel (search) to head New Jersey's homeland security effort after Sept. 11, no one could figure out why.
He was a political unknown, a recent immigrant with no security experience, named to a plum $110,000-a-year job without a background check or security clearance.
The 35-year-old Cipel had one qualification, the Statehouse rumors went: He was the governor's boyfriend.
Asked by reporters on several occasions if he was gay or had a romantic relationship with Cipel, McGreevey would never answer directly, dismissing the suggestion as "ridiculous."
The speculation intensified after McGreevey's historic announcement that he had an affair with another man and would step down Nov. 15. McGreevey made the announcement Thursday at a news conference with his wife and parents at his side.
Two sources close to McGreevey, both speaking on condition of anonymity, said Thursday that Cipel was the unnamed man mentioned in the resignation speech. One of the sources, a high-ranking member of the McGreevey administration, said Cipel threatened McGreevey with a sexual harassment lawsuit unless he was paid millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, the FBI is investigating McGreevey's allegation that a former employee tried to blackmail him, according to a federal law enforcement source who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. A lawyer for McGreevey called the FBI the day before to report the extortion attempt, the source said.
Cipel has yet to comment on McGreevey or their relationship, but his attorney planned to issue a statement Friday. Hundreds of reporters, photographers and political aides from both parties staked out courthouses on Friday waiting for a lawsuit to be filed.
The developments occurred as Republican leaders called on McGreevey to leave office immediately, saying that news of the affair is likely to be first of many damaging disclosures.
"It is my suspicion that there will be more awkward stories in the days and weeks to come — stories that will make it very difficult for him to carry out the duties of his office," said state Republican Chairman Joe Kyrillos (search).
Had McGreevey stepped down immediately, a special election would be have been held to serve out the remainder of his term, which ends in January 2006. The decision to leave office in November allows Democratic Senate President Richard J. Codey to finish the term.
Democrats said GOP leaders were unfairly trying to capitalize on what was McGreevey's personal decision.
"This is the time for the people's business, not for partisan politics," Codey said.
Republican lawyers said they were considering legal options that would force McGreevey to resign earlier, but added that pursuing impeachment was not one of them.
McGreevey's resignation brings an end to a political career that has been marked by a series of scandals and missteps, including the Cipel appointment.
McGreevey was introduced to Cipel at a reception during a trip to Israel in 2000 when he was running for governor. The married American politician and the young Israeli poet were introduced at a wine-and-cheese reception and hit it off immediately.
Soon, McGreevey paved the way for Cipel to come to the United States. Six months later, Cipel was working on McGreevey's campaign, having obtained a visa in which he listed McGreevey donor Charles Kushner as a sponsor on his visa application and then taking up residence in an apartment less than a mile from McGreevey.
Working first in a $30,000-a-year job public relations job arranged by Kushner, Cipel was named to head the state Office of Homeland Security in February 2002.
McGreevey said he did not think a background check was necessary for Cipel, who had also worked as a public relations officer in the Israeli consulate in New York and achieved the rank of lieutenant in the Israeli Navy.
"Golan is smart, incisive, hard-working and trustworthy, and he has brought a unique point of view to the work he does," McGreevey said at the time.
But nagging questions about his qualifications and the reason for his appointment trailed Cipel, who was told by McGreevey not to grant media interviews in the meantime.
The heat was turned up after the Star-Ledger of Newark reported that the U.S. Secret Service and the FBI had both refused to share information with Cipel because he was a foreigner with no security clearance.
Buckling to pressure, McGreevey reassigned him as a "special counsel" in the governor's office. He left state government five months later and landed a public relations job with McGreevey's help before fading from public view.
McGreevey never mentioned him during the dramatic, nationally televised news conference Thursday. But he said keeping the affair and his sexual orientation secret will leave the governor's office "vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure."
Meir Nitzan, a mayor in Israel who introduced Cipel and McGreevey, said he did not know whether Cipel was gay, instead describing him as a "straight-laced" man who was, by all appearances, heterosexual.
"He is not married. He presented at least two women as his girlfriend ... what surprises me is the blackmail allegation," Nitzan said.
Kushner has had no contact with Cipel for at least two years, his attorney, Benjamin Brafman, said Friday.