Affair with Israeli Leads N.j. Governor to Admit Homosexuality, Step Down

The gay relationship that led to the resignation of New Jersey Gov. James McGreevey had roots in a trip to Israel in 2000 that was sponsored by New Jersey federations. The Democratic governor’s affair with Golan Cipel, an Israeli man who would become McGreevey’s liaison to the Jewish community, led to the governor’s admission Thursday that he is gay — and to his resignation from the governor’s seat he has held since 2002.

McGreevey admitted to a relationship with a man, but did not go into details.

“I realize the fact of this affair and my own sexuality, if kept secret, leaves me, and most importantly the governor’s office, vulnerable to rumors, false allegations and threats of disclosure,” McGreevey said. “So I am removing these threats by telling you directly about my sexuality.”

McGreevey’s admission came as a sexual harassment lawsuit was expected to be filed by Cipel. McGreevey’s political relationship with Cipel, ! who once served as his homeland security director, has been a problem for McGreevey since he took office.

The Associated Press quoted an anonymous high-ranking official in McGreevey’s administration saying that McGreevey’s lover — the report didn’t name Cipel — demanded “an exorbitant sum of money to make” the threatened lawsuit “go away.” Administration officials and members of McGreevey’s Cabinet learned of that threat Wednesday night, the AP reported.

Cipel and McGreevey had an “instant recognition” when they met in Rishon Letzion, Israel during McGreevey’s 2000 trip. Cipel worked as spokesman for the Rishon Letzion’s mayor, sources told JTA.

Cipel previously had worked as an information officer at the Israeli consulate in New York for three years in the mid-1990s.

McGreevey offered Cipel a campaign job almost immediately, the sources said.

Sources say campaign staffers found Cipel an apartment close to McGreevey’s condominium when he arrived in the! United States. Later, McGreevey himself reportedly viewed a townhouse Cipel was to buy before the purchase was completed.

McGreevey made Cipel his campaign’s liaison to the Jewish community. He also reportedly got him a job with real estate developer Charles Kushner, a top McGreevey donor who recently was accused of blackmailing witnesses in a federal investigation against him.

Cipel reportedly was given the job to allow him to stay in the United States.

After he was elected governor in late 2001, McGreevey appointed Cipel as his homeland security director, an appointment that proved controversial.

Critics said Cipel wasn’t qualified for the homeland security post, largely because he was not an American citizen and hadn’t been involved in security issues in Israel beyond his mandatory military service. Several federal agencies refused to give him information.

News reports at the time said McGreevey exaggerated Cipel’s military qualifications when he sought a special work visa for the homeland security job. Cipel served in ! the Navy, and then was a lieutenant in Israel’s reserves.

Cipel ultimately was stripped of his homeland security portfolio because of pressure from Republicans, but he remained a high-paid member of McGreevey’s staff, according to media reports. He planned the governor’s overseas trips, including a trip to Israel, and conducted a study of the New Jersey-Israel Commission.

Cipel left the governor’s office two years ago to work in the private sector, but remained an unpaid liaison to Jewish leaders in New Jersey.

A staffer at MWW, the Kushner-related firm that employed Cipel as a public relations official after he left the governor’s office, hung up when asked about Cipel’s whereabouts.

David Mallach, former director of the MetroWest, N.J. Jewish Community Relations Council, said his group encountered no problems working with Cipel.

“For a guy like Jim McGreevey, who already had a lot of good Jewish relationships, Cipel’s role wasn’t a key one,” Mallach sa! id.

Mallach said his more important role was in his homeland secur ity capacity, which was significant in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Washington Bureau Chief Ron Kampeas and New York staff writer Rachel Pomerance contributed to this report.

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