WEST NEW YORK, N.J. – Some people sought his autograph, others wanted a picture with him and just about all of them cheered loudly.
Gov. James E. McGreevey (search) found supportive crowds when he emerged in the last week for his first public events since the announcement Aug. 12 that he is gay and will resign.
McGreevey got a standing ovation Thursday from students at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new middle school in West New York (search). Earlier in the week he drew repeated applause from factory workers during one stop and from research scientists and college employees the next day.
The support came despite the sex scandal that led to McGreevey's resignation and the announcements of federal investigations into several of his aides and campaign donors that preceded his decision to leave office.
"I think everybody supports him," said Magda Martinez, a West New York resident who stood on a curb outside the school with several friends hoping to see McGreevey on Thursday. "Everybody makes mistakes. I don't hold it against him. He's a good person."
While those who attended McGreevey's appearances this week represent a small sample of the views of the entire state, one expert said the response could indicate the governor effectively drew sympathy for himself in the way he made his resignation announcement.
"There is speculation that he hoped he'd get sympathy having been exposed for his personal life, which is different than just being a corrupt politician where you can't get sympathy," said Ted Goertzel, a professor of sociology at Rutgers University (search) in Camden.
Goertzel, who wrote a book called "Turncoats and True Believers: The Dynamics of Political Belief and Disillusionment," said he thinks many New Jerseyans are willing to forgive McGreevey because of their Christian beliefs.
"He suffered, he's admitted his sins. Part of being a Christian culture is that people should be forgiven and redeemed," Goertzel said. "I see this as a morality play of that sort."
McGreevey received poor numbers in public opinion polls almost from the time he took office. And the results of a Quinnipiac University (search) poll released Aug. 25 said that 50 percent of those surveyed believe McGreevey would be unable to lead the state effectively after announcing that he had an extramarital affair with a man.
Quinnipiac poll director Clay F. Richards compared the support and sympathy McGreevey was shown at events this week to that given to Richard Nixon after he resigned as president.
"I think it's natural for some people to embrace him," Richards said. "The pressure is off. There's no reason for those who dislike him to show it."
The support for McGreevey went beyond applause at two events this week. Workers at an airplane parts factory in Wall Township booed reporters Tuesday when they asked McGreevey questions about his resignation.
McGreevey supporters were also upset Thursday that reporters asked questions about the job duties of the former aide who has been identified as the man to whom the governor referred in his stunning speech. The gathering had been called for McGreevey to sign an executive order.
The news conference at the governor's office was temporarily halted when Frank Forst, a former Democratic mayor of Jamesburg, angrily interrupted an Associated Press reporter's questions.
"I don't want to sit around here and listen to all these folks," said Forst. "We are here for an important signing to protect jobs and provide work for our members."
McGreevey administration officials identified Golan Cipel (search) as the man McGreevey was talking about when he said he had an affair. Cipel denied the claim and said he was sexually harassed by the governor.
On Thursday, McGreevey said Cipel was simply an adviser on "a number of issues" and never compromised the state's homeland security.
However, two years ago, McGreevey boasted of Cipel's hiring and fought to keep him in the $110,000 post even when news media and lawmakers raised questions about Cipel's qualifications and inability to gain a security clearance because he was a foreign citizen. At the time, McGreevey said it was appropriate to hire an Israeli outsider because of "the need to incorporate a fresh set of eyes."
"Mr. Cipel's role was as counselor to the governor. He was not charged with responsibility for homeland security," McGreevey said Thursday. "On a number of issues he provided insight and advice."
McGreevey refused to elaborate when pressed for details about what advice Cipel had offered.