The Confessionby James E. McGreevey
In August 2004, Governor James E. McGreevey of New Jersey made history when he stepped before microphones, declared "My truth is that I am a gay American," and announced his resignation. The story made international headlines—but what led to that moment was a human and political drama more complex and fascinating than anyone knew. Now, in this extraordinarily
In August 2004, Governor James E. McGreevey of New Jersey made history when he stepped before microphones, declared "My truth is that I am a gay American," and announced his resignation. The story made international headlines—but what led to that moment was a human and political drama more complex and fascinating than anyone knew. Now, in this extraordinarily candid memoir, McGreevey shares his story of a life of ambition, moral compromise, and redemption.
From childhood, McGreevey lived a kind of idealized American life. The son of working-class Irish Catholic parents, named for an uncle who died at Iwo Jima, he strove to exceed expectations in everything he did, meeting each new challenge as though his "future rode on every move." As a young man he was tempted by the priesthood, yet it was another calling—politics—that he found irresistible. Plunging early into the dangerous waters of New Jersey politics, he won three elections by the age of thirty-six, and soon thereafter nearly toppled the state's popular governor, Christie Todd Whitman, in a photo-finish election. Four years later, he won the governorship by a landslide.
Throughout his adult life, however, Jim McGreevey had been forced to suppress a fundamental truth about himself: that he was gay. He knew at once that the only clear path to his dreams was to live a straight life, and so he split in two, accepting the traditional role of family man while denying his deepest emotions. And he discovered, to his surprise, that becoming a political player demanded ethical shortcuts that became as corrosive as living in the closet. In the cutthroat culture of political bosses, backroom deals, and the insidious practice known as "pay-to-play," he writes, "political compromises came easy to me because I'd learned how to keep a part of myself innocent of them." His policy triumphs as governor were tempered by scandal, as the transgressions of his staff came back to haunt him. Yet only when a former lover threatened to expose him did he finally confront his divided soul, and find the authentic self that had always eluded him.
More than a coming-out memoir, The Confession is the story of one man's quest to repair the rift between his public and private selves, at a time in our culture when the personal and political have become tangled like frayed electric cables. Teeming with larger-than-life characters, written with honesty, grace, and rare insight into what it means to negotiate the minefields of American public life, it may be among the most honest political memoirs ever written.
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By James E. McGreevey
Regan BooksCopyright © 2006 James E. McGreevey
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHow These Things Happen
One late-summer Sunday night in 2002, well before my political career collapsed, I was helping my wife, Dina, tuck our daughter into bed. Well, not helping, exactly. Even as I stood in the bedroom doorway watching my family, my ear was glued to a cell phone. Through the phone came the voice of a former employee named Golan Cipel. In a spectacular lapse of judgment, I had put Golan on my payroll while at the same time initiating a secret sexual relationship with him.
A few weeks earlier, both arrangements had ended badly, after press questions about his qualifications reached critical mass. Golan still hadn't recovered, and he had taken to calling me day and night to ask for his job back. I listened to him tirelessly-in part because I wanted to help him if I could, but mostly because I still loved him. But there was no way I could do what he wanted.
I loved Golan Cipel, a handsome and bright man a few years my junior, and I wanted him to be happy. But I was a married man, a father, and the governor of New Jersey. There was no chance he could rejoin my administration.
I had no reason to believe that Dina suspected my affair with Golan, or even the fact that I was gay. She probably already knew I didn't love her anymore, not in the way a manloves his wife. It had been a long time since we'd last been intimate. Lately, what drove us forward had been little more than the momentum of a public life.
Maybe unconsciously I wanted to bring it all to a head that night. How else can I explain why I answered Golan's phone call in her presence? The longer I stood in that doorway watching my wife and daughter and listening to my former lover on the phone, the closer my world came to imploding. Nothing I told him mollified his pain, which I believe had more to do with his stalled career in government than with our failed affair. He missed me, I felt sure, mostly because he missed having access to power.
"My life is over," he was saying. The bad press, he claimed, had ruined his reputation. "Nobody is supporting me out here."
"We'll get through this, Golan," I assured him. "This is the big leagues. You're going to get knocks."
Dina had a rule about not interrupting our daughter's time with work calls, and as I struggled to get off the phone, I watched her growing increasingly angry. But then I saw a light bulb flick on in her eyes. She tucked Jacqueline into her covers and pushed past me in a rage, just as I was hanging up.
After we were safely out of Jacqueline's earshot, she turned and glared at me.
"This whole thing is ridiculous," she said.
I knew exactly what she meant. "What thing?" I asked anyway.
She walked back toward me, in the darkened hallway, until we were close enough for her to study my face. "Are you gay?"
All my life I had dreaded that question. Others had asked it, and I can't think of a time when I lied affirmatively about my sexuality, but I lied every day by omission and obfuscation. And I allowed others to lie for me. My marriage to Dina was a major part of that lie; that much I knew consciously. As our years together ticked by, I found it harder and harder to deny the truth. Being gay is a fundamental part of my being-the core of who I've always been, and the thing I had repressed and run from all my life.
For a brief moment I thought I could stop running that day. But I didn't have the nerve to tell my wife the truth. Instead I said nothing.
I've never been much for self-revelation. In two decades of public life, I have always approached the limelight with extreme caution. Not that I kept my personal life off-limits; rather, the personal life I put on display was a blend of fact and fiction. Dishonesty creates not only a lack of truth but a tangle of truths. I invented overlapping narratives about who I was, and contrived backstories that played better not just in the ballot box but in my own mind. And then, to the best of my ability, I tried to be the man in those stories.
In this way I'm not at all unique. Inauthenticity is endemic in American politics today. Those who would be leaders are all too often tempted to become what we think you want us to be-not leading at all, but following our best guess at public opinion. We tailor our public positions to reflect poll results and consultants' advice, then feed that data back to you in flattering ways. Everything from the clothing we wear to the places we vacation is selected data for political gain; even the food we eat is chosen with strategic calculation. The public square has never been so clamorous with deception.
This is, in fact, the defining characteristic of American political life today, and it is a dangerous slippery slope. For too many politicians winning has become the end goal of politics, trumping both ideology and ethics. An ambitious politician quickly learns, as I did, to countenance and even sponsor fundamentally corrupt behavior while insulating himself, for as long as he can, behind a buffer of deniability. I'm not talking about criminal misconduct-the kind of thing that leads to the occasional political corruption scandal. I'm talking about the hundreds of ways that politicians-or their representatives-can push the envelope on ethics, morals, and truth in our quest for power. In my experience, ethical compromises are not just a shortcut to office; for all but the wealthy, they are all but compulsory. The political backrooms where I spent much of my career were just as benighted ...
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Meet the Author
James E. McGreevey was the governor of New Jersey from January 2002 to November 2004. Born in Jersey City, he earned degrees from Columbia, Georgetown, and Harvard before serving three terms as the mayor of Woodbridge, New Jersey. After a narrow defeat in 1997, he was elected to the governor's seat in 2001. He lives in Plainfield, New Jersey with his partner, Mark O'Donnell. He has two daughters, Jacqueline and Morag.
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