America's first openly gay governor plans to return to work later this week, but James E. McGreevey (search) faces a political landscape upended by the admission he had engaged in an extramarital affair with a man and would resign.
"Under the circumstance of this enormous embarrassment, will Jim really have the energy and emotion to do this?" asked David Rebovich, a Rider University political scientist. "I actually think it's really unfair to expect him to."
A spokeswoman said Sunday that McGreevey was taking a few days to spend with his wife while staff members prepared his work schedule for the coming days. The governor has made no public statement since his disclosure on Thursday.
McGreevey's days as a lame duck governor could prove difficult. GOP leaders are pushing for his immediate removal, former aide Golan Cipel (search) is threatening to file a sexual harassment lawsuit, and many questions about his personal and professional relationships remain unanswered.
Even some top Democratic officials want McGreevey to leave office so that U.S. 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 Sunday, speaking on condition of anonymity.
But Corzine is "absolutely not interested in pushing for a special election," said his spokesman, David Wald.
Democratic state Sen. Raymond Lesniak, a close adviser to McGreevey, said party members should remain confident McGreevey is not leaving and that he will not damage the party.
"McGreevey's not going anywhere," Lesniak said, denouncing Democrats who are calling for him to step aside. "What they're doing is they're picking at his political carcass, and I think it's disgusting."
Before he leaves office on Nov. 15, McGreevey has outlined an agenda that includes getting construction plans ready for the Stem Cell Research Institute (search) he established and implementing a security plan for the Republican National Convention in nearby New York, which starts at the month's end.
"He is not concentrating on what is next for Jim McGreevey," said Kathy Ellis, the governor's communications director. "He is concentrating on the next 90 days and the initiatives that meant the world to him as governor."
Two sources close to McGreevey identified Cipel as the man involved in the governor's affair. The sources, a high-ranking member of the McGreevey administration and the other a senior political adviser, said Cipel threatened to sue the governor unless he was paid to keep quiet, a charge Cipel has denied through his attorney.
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.
New Jersey Republicans say it will be impossible for McGreevey to focus and be effective. GOP lawyers are considering legal options that would force McGreevey to resign earlier, but leaders say they would prefer it if he left voluntarily.
"The people of this state should decide who is governor of New Jersey," said Senate Republican Leader Leonard Lance.
McGreevey's approval rating has apparently not suffered, a new poll showed Sunday. The governor's approval rating was 45 percent, 2 points higher than in a similar poll conducted two weeks earlier, according to the Star-Ledger/Eagleton-Rutgers poll. The telephone poll of 400 adults was conducted Thursday and Friday nights. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percentage points.
By remaining in office until Nov. 15, McGreevey assures that a Democrat will remain as governor until the next year's election.
As long as he stays until Sept. 3, the deadline for a special election to replace him will expire. Senate President Richard J. Codey — the state's second highest ranking Democrat — is set to takeover and become acting governor until the end of McGreevey's term in January 2006.
Under the state Constitution, McGreevey could only be removed from office through impeachment, a scenario that remains unlikely because it requires a two-thirds vote in the Assembly and trial in the Senate. Democrats control both houses of the Legislature.