Published August 15, 2004
TRENTON, N.J. – The man at the center of James E. McGreevey (search)'s decision to resign called himself the frequent victim of a "manipulative person" on Friday, as New Jersey's Republican party chair issued calls for the governor to "do the right thing" and step down immediately.
Golan Cipel (search), who himself resigned two years ago from the state's top homeland security post, answered rumors that he was McGreevey's former lover with charges that the one-time rising Democratic star had sexually harassed him.
Cipel was pushing for a cash settlement of up to $50 million before the governor decided to announce that he was gay and had an extramarital affair, sources told The Associated Press.
"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," said attorney Allen Lowy, reading a statement from Cipel.
"Such conduct and behavior caused me emotional distress and turmoil," Lowy read. "I was a victim whose oppressor was one of the most powerful politicians ... who made sure I knew my future was in his hands."
McGreevey's spokesman, Micah Rasmussen, vehemently denied the accusations, calling them "completely and totally false allegations from a person trying to exploit his relationship with the governor. The matter has been referred to federal authorities for investigation."
Rumors surrounding Cipel's relationship with McGreevey date back to 2002, when having no prior experience the former Israeli sailor was named to head the state Office of Homeland Security.
Reporters covering the Statehouse came to believe the 35-year-old Cipel was the governor's boyfriend. Asked on several occasions if he was gay or had a romantic relationship with Cipel, McGreevey would never answer directly, dismissing the suggestion as "ridiculous."
But the accusations presented by Cipel's attorney on Friday painted an entirely different picture.
"When I rejected [McGreevey's] advances, retaliatory actions taken by him and his staff ... were nothing short of abuse," Cipel's statement read.
In the statement, Cipel expressed relief at coming forward and vindication at the governor's resignation, but it was not clear what was to become of a rumored sexual harassment lawsuit.
"Only time will tell" whether a lawsuit is filed, Lowy said. No lawsuit was filed on Friday, according to court officials in Mercer and Middlesex counties.
Sources told FOX News that McGreevey's office on Thursday contacted the FBI about alleged extortion attempts by Cipel. The governor's office alleged that Cipel had offered to drop a threatened sexual harassment lawsuit for $5 million.
But on Friday Cipel denied the charge, accusing McGreevey's office of approaching him with hush money.
"A representative of Governor McGreevey without provocation offered a sum of money to make my client go away," Lowy told reporters, calling Cipel the victim of a "smear campaign."
A source close to the situation told FOX News the FBI already had been investigating McGreevey for alleged corruption, including allegations that he had attempted to obtain money to pay Cipel off.
Cipel, an Israeli poet, was once employed in the governor's office at salary of $110,000 a year. He was a subject of controversy because although he was designated a homeland security adviser, as a foreign citizen he could not obtain a federal security clearance.
"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.
McGreevey later reassigned him to a "special counsel" position, which had no specific duties. A few months later, Cipel left the government and obtained a public relations job with McGreevey's help.
McGreevey stunned New Jerseyans on Thursday when, with his wife and parents beside him, he announced that he was a "gay American," had had an extramarital affair with a man and would be resigning from office in November.
Playing Politics Till the End?
Rumors of ulterior motives behind the bombshell announcement prompted at least one New Jersey lawmaker to urge the Democrat to "do the right thing" and step down right away.
State Republican Chairman Joe Kyrillos (search) on Friday said rumors about the affair, as well his "suspicion that there will be more awkward stories in the days and weeks to come" prompted his call for McGreevey to quit immediately.
He should "resign now," Kyrillos said at a late morning news conference Friday.
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 said his resignation would be effective Nov. 15, which would allow for a Democrat, Senate President Richard J. Codey, to remain chief executive of the Garden State as acting governor until the end of McGreevey's term in early 2006. If McGreevey were to leave office before Nov. 15, a special election would be held.
Former Republican Gov. Christie Whitman (search) said McGreevey "made a courageous decision" but criticized his plan to wait until Nov. 15 to leave office, saying it "smacks of politics." She said it "would be in the best interests of the state" for the governor to step down immediately.
Kyrillos also called the decision of when to step down "bigger than Jim McGreevey.
"It transcends one person, one governor. It's a much bigger issue. This is something that impacts everyone in the state of New Jersey," he said. The people of New Jersey "have a right to choose the governor."
Although the timing of McGreevey's departure would seem to benefit the Democrats, Chuck Todd, editor in chief of National Journal's Hotline (search), said Republicans would be hard-pressed to win a rushed special election.
"It's not clear how the Republicans could win this race either way. I actually think they're better off criticizing and hoping that McGreevey sticks to the original plan," Todd said. He added that if an election were held this November, Sen. Jon Corzine, a Democrat who is expected to run for the office in 2005, would be the clear frontrunner because of his statewide name recognition and personal fortune.
Similarly, Newsweek contributing editor Eleanor Clift said, "The Republicans are probably better off waiting because they don’t have a strong candidate right now."
Republican strategist Frank Donatelli said that even if an election this November would benefit the Democrats, holding it then is still the right thing to do. "Don’t the people have the right to select the next governor?"
New Jersey in State of Shock
"My truth is that I am a gay American," McGreevey, a Roman Catholic, said at the Thursday news conference. With his second wife by his side, he described decades of sexual confusion that dogged him through two marriages and ultimately led him to an act he called "wrong, foolish and inexcusable."
"Given the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon my family and my ability to govern, I have decided the right course of action is to resign," he said, without elaborating on what the circumstances were.
McGreevey, 47, refused to answer questions. He said "it makes little difference that as governor I am gay," but added that staying in office and keeping the affair and his sexual orientation secret will leave the governor's office "vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure."
Across New Jersey, people listened to their radios or gathered around TV sets to listen to McGreevey's live news conference. Many were left in shock, although rumors had been circulating for several years that McGreevey was gay.
"It's a shame," said Jim Nerney, 48, of Middletown. "He brought a lot of passion to the governor's office, but the fact is that it's not accepted in today's society and he's paying the consequences."
"His sexual orientation doesn't matter to me. I feel he's done a good job, holding the line on taxes," said Donald Bowman, 52, of Kearny, a school district worker in Newark.
Gay rights groups expressed support and compassion for McGreevey, but their reactions were tinged with sorrow because McGreevey announced his resignation just as he became the nation's first openly gay governor.
"It is a very sad to thing to watch. It is kind of stunning, sad to me that in 2004 people are still having to struggle because of homophobia in society to come to terms with who they are," said Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal.
FOX News' Peter Brownfeld, Jane Roh and The Associated Press contributed to this report.