TRENTON, N.J. – A lawyer for a man accusing Gov. James E. McGreevey (search) of sexual harassment said Monday he had believed the governor would pay to stop his client from suing.
Instead, minutes later, the governor told the world he had had an extramarital affair with a man and planned to resign, Allen Lowy said.
The claim by Lowy — who represents Golen Cipel, (search) the former administration official identified by McGreevey aides as the governor's sexual partner — came as a new poll showed voters nearly evenly split about when McGreevey should go.
The Democratic governor said he would leave Nov. 15, a date that has drawn criticism from Republicans and some Democrats because it would mean an acting governor would serve for more than a year. A quicker exit would allow for a special election.
A poll showed voters nearly evenly split about when McGreevey should go.
America's first openly gay governor returned to work Monday, four days after his startling press conference.
Lowy said a verbal deal to stop a suit by Cipel was struck Thursday, five minutes before the scheduled start of the news conference.
"We had a deal," Lowy said. "The next thing I know my secretary told me he's in the process of resigning. I was very surprised. I understood that they were satisfied and it was over."
McGreevey spokeswoman Kathy Ellis called Lowy's version of the minutes leading up to the announcement "absolutely incorrect."
Lowy said the deal would have involved payment of money to Cipel, but declined to say how much. Cipel is still considering filing a lawsuit, according to Lowy.
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, McGreevey appointed Cipel to a newly created post of homeland security adviser without any background check or official announcement.
Amid questions about what Cipel did to earn his $110,000 salary, he was reassigned in March 2002 to a "special counsel" job and left the government a few months later.
Two sources close to McGreevey — a high-ranking administration member and a senior political adviser — have identified Cipel as the man involved in the governor's affair.
In an interview published Sunday by the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Ahronot, Cipel maintained that he is not gay and said McGreevey repeatedly made unwanted sexual advances.
"It doesn't bother me that it is said I am gay, but I really am not. I'm straight. On the other hand, to accuse me of being an extortionist? Someone here has lost his mind," Cipel was quoted as telling Yediot.
Spokespeople have said McGreevey's focus in coming weeks will be on initiatives he hopes to complete before leaving office this fall.
His days as a lame duck governor could prove difficult. Besides Cipel's threatened lawsuit, GOP leaders are pushing for his immediate removal, and many questions about his personal and professional relationships remain unanswered.
Even some top Democratic officials want McGreevey to leave office so that Sen. Jon Corzine (search) can seek the governor's office in a special election that would be held in November.
"There's a big push on now to get McGreevey out sooner rather than later," a senior administration source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Under McGreevey's Nov. 15 date, state Senate President Richard J. Codey (search) would be acting governor for more than a year, until McGreevey's term expires in January 2006.
The new Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind poll found 41 percent of those surveyed said Nov. 15 is the right date for McGreevey to step down, while 48 percent said he should resign sooner. Another 10 percent said they did not know.
Nearly half those surveyed — 48 percent — thought McGreevey should resign, while 42 percent said it was not necessary, and 10 percent said they did not know, the poll showed.
Voters were even closer on the question of whether a special election should be held this fall: 46 percent favored a special election, 44 percent wanted an acting governor for over a year, and 10 percent said they did not know.
With a sampling error margin of plus or minus 4 percentage points, none of the results to those three questions had a clear majority.
Much of the poll broke down along party lines, with independents tending to line up with Republicans, said Peter J. Woolley, executive director of the poll and a professor of comparative politics at Fairleigh Dickinson.
"That's unusual in New Jersey politics. And it's certainly unusual this year, where independent have been breaking toward the Democratic ticket," Woolley said.
The PublicMind poll of 500 registered voters was conducted Friday, Saturday and Sunday.